After the stress caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many members of Jewish communities in Sandy, Estacada and East Multnomah County are looking forward to reframing their perspectives during Hanukkah.
"Hanukkah means dedication, and originally it was a re-dedication," said Messianic Rabbi Gabriel Lumbroso, who leads Estacada's Yedidei Adonai congregation, noting that this is particularly meaningful to him this year.
"It's a good time to think about re-dedicating yourself to a brighter life. It's the festival of lights, so it's a chance to not spend so much time in darkness."
Among other traditions, Hanukkah is typically celebrated with a nightly lighting of a menorah, a seven to nine branch candelabra.
The event dates back to second century BC, when the Holy Land was ruled by Syrian Greeks who tried to force the people of Israel to accept Greek culture and beliefs rather than their own traditions. Subsequently, a small Jewish Army defeated the powerful Greeks, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G d. When the group went to light the temple's menorah, there was only a one day supply of oil. But when they lit the menorah, it lasted for eight days.
"It's a story of G-d's provision,"Lumbroso said.
This year, Hanukkah begins on Sunday, Nov. 28, and ends on Monday, Dec. 6. Families across the region have a variety of plans to commemorate this time.
In Estacada, Lumbroso is looking forward to celebrating with the members of the Yedidei Adonai congregation.
The congregation will host a celebration of lights at 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5, at Harvest Market Square, 280 N. Broadway Street, Estacada. During the gathering, there will be music, dancing, food and a lighting of the 9-candle menorah.
After canceling the event last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lumbroso is looking forward to coming together once again. Community members are invited to the event, as well.
"We would like a crowd," he said. "It's nice to be able to do it again. A lot of things have been canceled. It's a return to what we haven't been able to do. I hope people pass by, eat with us and dance with the dancers."
A group from the congregation will perform Davidic dancing, which Lumbroso described as being similar to Israeli circle dancing.
"After crossing the Red Sea, Miriam led the women in dancing," he said while discussing the dance's origin, adding that Miriam was 90 years old when this happened.
During the eight days of Hanukkah, Lumbroso and his wife, Christina, light the menorah in their home every night. They also have gifts for their six children, even though they no longer live at home.
He's also looking forward to celebrating with the members of Yedidei Adonai.
"I like the family atmosphere, and the fun that our group has. We like having fun together, and sharing food and laughter," he said. "The height of being a congregation leader is not having a perfect sermon. It's after, when people come to the dining room to eat together. I love seeing people enjoy fellowship."
Thankful for Hanukkah
It is fitting the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah falls so close to Thanksgiving.
"Both festivals are about recognizing the good in our life and giving gratitude for all the good things we have in our lives," said Rabbi Avrohom Dyce, who helms the Gresham Chabad Jewish Center alongside his wife Cheina Dyce.
Hanukkah is celebrated yearly during the winter months and lasts for eight days. It marks the miracle of a one-day supply of lamp oil lasting eight nights during a conflict attempting to suppress Judaism in the second century B.C.
The festival has nightly lightings of the menorah candelabra, and a large part of Hanukkah is spending time with family. The holiday places children at the forefront, with gifts of money and playing games.
"The message of Hanukkah is the message of light,"Cheina said."The nature of light is that it is always victorious over darkness. Another act of goodness and kindness, another act of light, can make all the difference."
Rabbi Dyce loves to spread the messages of Hanukkah — so much so he attaches an electric Menorah to the top of his car every year to spread light around the community.
"It really feels great to see the interest and the smiles it brings to people's faces," he said. "They have never seen anything of the sort before so that's pretty cool."
Keeping traditions alive
In Sandy, while there isn't a synagogue for miles, Hanukkah traditions are alive and well in the Cohen-Mallon household. Carol Cohen and her husband Cary Mallon, while of different beliefs, have raised their two children in the Jewish faith Carol grew up with.
"My husband is not Jewish — he's actually atheist — so we don't celebrate Christmas, we have always celebrated Hanukkah," Carol said.
The family has a collection of menorahs to choose from, some homemade by children Shira Cohen-Mallon, 12, and Sidra Cohen-Mallon, 15, and some handed down.
"The first night we light the menorah, and we give gifts every night," Carol explained."It's more about the kids; they get a gift each night. Cary and I will give gifts to each other, but not usually every night. It seems like that's more special when you're younger."
When her children were younger, Carol said they played dreidel and the holiday was especially appreciated for the abundance of gifts.
Nowadays, daughter Shira explained, it's more about the opportunities to be in community with other people of the faith.
"I do like going to visit the synagogue we go to in Portland,"Shira said."There are a lot more people who celebrate there than in Sandy."
"I have always liked the tradition of (Hanukkah) and lighting the candles," Sidra explained. "It's always been my favorite holiday."
Food is also a major traditional staple of the Cohen-Mallon Hanukkah experience. Carol makes latkes, potato pancakes fried in oil, and sufganiyot, a fried jelly doughnut, around Hanukkah. The dishes are seasonally appropriate because the oil they are fried in is symbolic of the oil that kept the temple candles lit for eight days after the Maccabees fled the oppression of the Seleucids in second century BCE.
"The kids love it," Carol added. "We've done it for so long. My oldest had a bat mitzvah and my youngest is studying for hers. This is how we celebrate. We really try to do as much as we can. It's mainly about just being together as a family."
Carol works as the events coordinator for the city of Sandy and this year is helping to host an inclusive winter holiday event called Season of Giving. The event aims to educate on and celebrate other holidays that take place around Christmas, such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, St. Lucia's Day, and Boxing Day.
"I'm excited to have other people experience and be educated on other holidays through this event," she explained.
This year, the Jewish community in East County plans to host an event in Gresham, and Carol is happy to have a celebration closer to home.
"We're excited that we don't have to drive far to be part of the community," Carol said.
A community of light
In 1974, a New York City rabbi sought to bring Hanukkah out of the darkness to be celebrated across the globe. Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, considered the most influential rabbi of the modern era, began a campaign for public menorah lightings as a way to spread awareness about the holiday and uplift the Jewish community.
From those early days in the New York boroughs, there are now more than 15,000 large, public menorahs lit every year, across more than 100 countries. Lightings take place in front of landmarks like the White House, the Eiffel Tower, and the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai.
And now Gresham can be added to that list.
At 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 28, East Multnomah County is invited to join a Hanukkah celebration at the Gresham Arts Plaza, 401 N.E. Second St. The day will be marked with the lighting of a 12-foot menorah. There will also be a giant inflatable dreidel, Hanukkah music, candy gelt — gold foil wrapped chocolate coins, and dreidels. Visitors can pick up an at-home menorah kit.
"This menorah lighting is one of many taking place all around the world," Rabbi Dyce said.
The first-ever East County public menorah lighting, hosted by the newly founded Gresham Chabad Jewish Center, is free to attend, and all are welcome. Gresham Mayor Travis Stovall plans to attend the event.
And the plan is to keep the public menorah lighting moving forward, having this become a beloved annual tradition in Gresham. Rabbi Dyce also would love to have more menorah lightings in the other local communities — Troutdale, Sandy, Fairview — anywhere there is a group wanting to celebrate Hanukkah. Now with the local events, East County residents won't have to schlep into Portland to celebrate the holiday.
"We are very excited to meet more locals of Gresham, more Jewish people in the area, to hear what activities they would appreciate," Rabbi Dyce said. "We can bring even more goodness, kindness, spirituality and light to East County."
Something to know
Writing "G-d" instead of God is a fairly recent custom in America. Many believe this to be a sign of respect, and the custom comes from an interpretation of the commandment in Deuteronomy 12:3-4 regarding the destruction of pagan altars. According to the medieval commentator, Rashi, people should not erase or destroy God's name and should avoid writing it.
Celebrate light in your community
What: Season of Giving community event
When: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4
Where: Abundant Life Church, 16633 Champion Way, Sandy
Cost: Free, though donations to the Meals on Wheels program are appreciated.
What: Yedidei Adonai congregation's celebration of lights
When: 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5.
Where: Harvest Market Square, 280 N. Broadway St.
What: A free public lighting of a 12-foot menorah, with an inflatable dreidel, Hanukkah music, candy gelt and more.
When: 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 28
Where: Gresham Arts Plaza, 401 N.E. Second St.
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