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Area residents celebrates Hanukkah

By Ed Brock

The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah goes beyond lighting candles on a menorah and giving presents.

"It's designed to celebrate religious freedom," said Cheryl Rich of Stockbridge.

The Riches, like other Jewish families around the world, are beginning to decorate their homes in preparation for the start of Hanukkah on Tuesday. The festival will last for eight days and nights in honor of the legend of an ancient Jewish victory.

In Hebrew, the word Hanukkah means "dedication." The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in 165 b.c. after it was taken back from Antiochus, the Greek King of Syria.

After Antiochus' army seized the temple in 168 B.C. and dedicated it to the worship of Zeus, a rebellion began in a village called Modiin. Judah Maccabee, son of the high priest Mattathias who started the rebellion, and his followers eventually reclaimed the temple.

However, when the Maccabees decided to hold a rededication celebration they could only find enough oil to light the temple's menorah for one day. But miraculously the lamp burned for eight days until more oil was found, thus setting the length of the celebration.

Cheryl Rich said Hanukkah is a time to remember "things that allow us to arrive at the season healthy and happy."

She added that there is some competition between her family's celebration of Hanukkah and the Christian celebration of Christmas, especially when her children bring projects home from school with Christmas decorations.

"We try to focus our life around religion to show them what we celebrate versus how other people celebrate," Rich said.

And all three of her children have their favorite part of the celebration, apart from the presents that they receive each night of the celebration after lighting the menorah candles.

"I like the food," said 13-year-old daughter Erin Rich.

Erin said she especially likes latkes, a pancake-like dish made from grated potatoes that is then mixed with eggs, onions and flour and then fried. Another popular Hanukkah food is the sufganiyot, a kind of shapeless jelly doughnut.

"I like singing dreidel," 7-year-old Austin Rich said. "Because it sings."

The children's father, Stuart Rich, said his son is referring to the electronic dreidel, a four-sided spinning top, that makes the tune to which the dreidel is historically played.

Players each get tokens, coins or candy, and they put a portion of them into "kupah," or kitty. Each side of the dreidel bears a Hebrew character that determines the play of the game.

The character "nun" means nothing happens, "gimmel" means the player takes the whole kitty, "heh" means they take half and "peh" or "shin" means they lose a token.

In America, all of the letters together stand for "A Great Miracle Happened There," and in Israel they stand for "A Great Miracle Happened Here."

"I like lighting the candles," said 12-year-old Brandon Rich.

On Tuesday, the first night of Hanukkah, the family will light one candle on their menorah. On the second night they will light two, on the third night they'll light three and so on until the eighth night when all the candles will be lit.

Candles are placed in the menorah from right to left, but they are lit form left to right using the Shamash, or "servant" candle.

Different families may add some traditions. Susan Levine of Riverdale said her family also bakes Hanukkah cookies.

"Since my children were infants," said Levine.

Her son is now 30 and her daughter 27 and she has a grandchild but Hanukkah cookies are still "the thing."

Laurie Albahari of McDonough comes from a Catholic family but her husband David and she are Jewish. They bring the families together each year for a Hanukkah party.

"We eat brisket and latkas. It's a tradition," Albahari said.

Levine is the "cantorial soloist" at the Congregation B'nai Israel in Fayette County. She said Hanukkah is a time for people to stop and think about freedom.

"Every candle reminds us of how far we've been and how far we have to go," Levine said.

Stuart Rich, a native of Chicago who moved to Atlanta with his family when he was 14, said more non-Jews are taking an interest in the holiday.

"I think it's being more recognized and more people are actually asking about it," Rich said.