Jewish community celebrates Hanukkah as Christians prepare for Christmas

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 12, 2015

Food, friends, family, tradition and togetherness are what Hanukkah is all about for Lesley Silver and her husband Daniel Boone.

The first day of Hanukkah was Sunday and the holiday has continued for eight nights as the Jewish community and beyond celebrates the holiday story of the Maccabees burning one day’s worth of oil over eight nights.

“Hanukkah to me is a time of really friends getting together and celebrating being together,” Silver said. “It’s supposed to be a time of freedom. It’s called the Festival of Lights.”

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The couple hosts a large meal every year at their home where they fry much of their meal to represent the use of oil. On the menu are potato latkes, sour cream, applesauce, pot roast or brisket and a beignet-like fried dough, all made from scratch.

“An important part of Hanukkah is cooking,” Boone said. “You fry food to celebrate Hanukkah because it’s a miracle that has to do with oil. It’s celebrated by frying foods. We did our cooking on Sunday night and you can count on at least three nights of smelling the oil as soon as you come in the house.”

The dates of Hanukkah change each year based on the lunar calendar. Sometimes the holiday occurs as early as November, overlapping with Thanksgiving, and other times it comes later and ends in the New Year.

Like the holiday, the dinner the couple hosts changes it’s date each year. This year their schedules meshed together with their friends to celebrate on the first day of Hanukkah.

“We try to limit the group to be a small enough group that everybody is involved enjoying the meal together, laughing together and overeating together,” Boone said.

Their non-Jewish family friends like Billie Abraham, an Episcopal priest, and the Fink family are just some of their regular guests. As time has gone on the children have grown up and generations have expanded. They all really enjoy the years they have children at the celebration. The friends exchange gifts over their meal and say a blessing as they light the Menorah every night of Hanukkah.

“We give presents because we’re just happy to have these people in our home that we can share this with,” Silver said. “It’s a connection with people and with friends and food. If there are young kids around there are games you play with dreidels.”

Boone said he doesn’t necessarily see Hanukkah as a religious observance, since they don’t have Hanukkah services at the synagogue. He sees it as a time to be with the ones you love because the festival is built around the home. Lighting the candles brings the people together because they don’t leave the house for dinner or other events until the candles burn all the way down.

“Most nights we run in, we do this, we do that and we run off, but because of the ritual of lighting the candles, it brings us together, we light the candles, we stay closer,” Boone said.

Silver’s daughter is coming into town this weekend from Alabama for the final nights of the holiday. Another tradition in their family is giving gifts that have an emotional effect on the recipient, but not in the way you’d think.

“She would give the girls blank paper and pens to draw with and there were some Hanukkahs where the girls ran out of the room crying because they were not happy to get paper,” Boone said

Silver said in her opinion her parents weren’t great gift givers either, “Don’t go into that, that wasn’t their strong point.” This year she gave paper and pens to 11-year-old Michael Fink and made sure to warn him beforehand that it made her kids cry.

Boone grew up celebrating Christmas and the couple still recognizes the holiday. They don’t have a Christmas tree, but they do have a strand of multi-color lights in a green glass jug on their dining table.

Since Silver owns the Attic Gallery and Boone owns Highway 61 Coffeehouse, the couple has to work Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas. Celebrating the day of Christmas is nice a day the couple can take for themselves to relax in their home with no responsibilities and lots of gifts to pass around.

“It’s really a very low key time because there is no running off to do anything else,” Boone said. “We do celebrate by exchanging gifts Christmas morning, spending time together, listening to music and we don’t go to work…It’s nice to have a true day of rest.”