Overlap of religious holidays increases awareness of Hanukkah

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Eliya Liberty

ASHEVILLE and DURHAM — The Festival of Lights began at sundown Saturday, but Hanukkah celebrations have taken place across the state throughout December.Despite Hanukkah not being a primary religious celebration for the Jewish community, Jewish Community Centers in North Carolina have enjoyed the increased awareness, particularly this year since Hanukkah overlaps Christmas and Kwanzaa.”Hanukkah is not a major Jewish holiday,” Rochelle Reich, the Asheville JCC community life and events director, said. “It just happens to fall on the calendar when other religions are having their holidays, so it gets a lot more attention because of that than it totally deserves. It is a perceived big deal in the holiday world even though it is a minor festival. It just gets caught up in the American commercialism of things.”Jillian Lea, who led the Durham Hanukkah Festival, agreed.”The overlap of Hanukkah with other religious holidays is purely a matter of timing,” Lea said. “Hanukkah is usually much earlier, in November even, although this year the first night coincides with Christmas. Hanukkah itself is a minor Jewish holiday — compared to the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The current emphasis on and awareness of Hanukkah is due to its temporal proximity to Christmas.”The Asheville JCC hosted a Hanukkah 8K on Dec. 11 with each kilometer signifying the eight days the oil burned.Reich said the race incorporated an education portion to show the reasoning behind eight.”We took the opportunity to delve deeper into the meaning of Hanukkah beyond just the race,” Reich said.The proceeds of the run went to the Shalom Children’s Center, which is a part of the JCC, and to Eblen Charities to assist people who need help paying their winter electricity bill.”We wanted to give back to the community at large,” Reich said. “Because the fact that it is a holiday that celebrates light. We thought wouldn’t it be great if we could create our own miracle in our community by helping families in our community who need assistance with fuel.”The Durham Hanukkah Festival on Dec. 11 included a holiday market put together by local synagogues, the Lerner Jewish Day School, Chabad, local musicians and food vendors. About 600 people attended the annual festival.”We’ve always invited other Jewish organizations to participate and have always had food, music and activities for kids,” Lea said. “This is the first year we have integrated PJ Library, which I was really excited about. PJ Library is a great program that gifts free books each month to Jewish kids, and it’s an excellent way to engage and connect families, especially during the holidays.”Lea said although the festival turnout was higher than normal, December is one of the slower months at the JCC, and more interest is typically during the summer months and January.