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The Festival of Lights begins tonight

By Billy Corriher

Driving down Tamora Drive in Riverdale at this time of year, you can always spot Christmas lights and wreaths adorning houses. But, after tonight, Susan Levine's window will feature a much different decoration n a Hanukkiah.

A Hanukkiah is the traditional Jewish symbol that is the centerpiece of the Hanukkah celebration, which begins tonight.

Tonight, Levine will light the candle and say blessings to commemorate the ancient Jewish legend of the menorah that burned for eight days on one night's fuel. Beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, the celebration involves lighting one candle every night for eight days.

Levine said, for her, the holiday is mostly about remembering the Jewish people's struggle for freedom. The legend behind the Festival of Lights says that the Maccabees, a small group of Jews, liberated the temple in Jerusalem from Greek conquerors.

The Maccabees then re-lit the temple's menorah with only one day's supply of oil, but legend has it the lights burned for eight days until more fuel could be made.

"It's a time when we stop and think about freedom," Levine said. "Every candle reminds us of how far we've been and how far we have to go."

Levine said she plans to spend the holiday with family and friends, gathering to enjoy traditional foods like fried potato latkes or sufganiyots, doughnut-like pastries.

"We also bake and decorate Hanukkah cookies every year," she said. "My kids are grown up now and we still do it."

In America, most Jewish children also get presents on each night of the celebration n a tradition that began because Hanukkah falls around Christmas.

Tomorrow night, Levine will lead the service at B'nai Israel, her synagogue. She will light the Hanukkiah candle, in addition to the usual Friday night service.

And although Hanukkah and the legend associated with it are not in the Torah, the Jewish holy book, the holiday has become a celebration of faith and dedication to the Jewish nation.

"It's a very joyous holiday," she said. "It makes it very special to have family and friends with you."