The three oldest children in the Feldman family of Reisterstown each plays a role in celebrating Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish holiday which ends at sundown Wednesday.
Jake, who is 15, loves to help light the menorah, where the candles are placed during the eight nights of the holiday. Sarah, 14, also helps with the lighting but enjoys wrapping presents, and 10-year-old Joey loves to make patterns for the candles but also holds the job of choosing the colors for the candles each night.
Evelyn, the family's youngest child at 11 months, will simply have the job of starting to learn about Hanukkah, since this will be her first celebration.
“We’re all kind of excited to celebrate it with Evelyn; that’s something different,” said her mother, Deborah Feldman. “That’s something new and exciting for all of us. We’re just excited to teach her all of the Hanukkah traditions and have her join in.”
Hanukkah is a joyous occasion and is often a favorite among Jewish families. Lit candles, accompanied by prayers, are placed in a menorah that holds one for each of the eight nights. And families celebrate the holiday in a variety of ways.
Some families give out presents — especially to children — on each of the eight nights. Others give the gifts on the first night or on a few nights. Still others have their unique way of issuing presents. In addition, Jewish families will eat potato latkes during the holiday at certain points.
Deborah Feldman said she and her husband, Stuart, try to hand out one present per night. They open the gifts and play games with driedels, or spinning tops, and also enjoy a big holiday party on one night with their extended family.
The Sacks family of Reisterstown celebrates the holiday in a way that’s very similar to the Feldmans.
Jody Sacks said she and her husband Todd’s two daughters, Shelby, 9, and Carly, 13, will receive presents each night as they eat dinner and light the menorah candles.
“Every night we make sure we’re home, and we light the candles together,” she said.
In addition, both grandmothers in the family live close by and become part of the Hanukkah celebration for at least one night. Todd’s mother, Hanna Sacks, has been doing a holiday party/gift exchange for 44 years.
The Sacks girls also are starting to help out in their own ways. Shelby is a student at Franklin Elementary, and the school has a holiday shopping program where kids can pick out a present, and then have it wrapped and given to the parents.
The school uses the program as a fundraiser.
Carly Sacks said she understands what the holiday is about, and she enjoys the interaction with her family, something that happens in different ways each year.
“I like the bonding with the family and opening presents in front of them,” Carly said. “It’s just such a fun experience, and now that I’m old enough, I can buy presents for everybody else, too. I like their reaction after they open the presents.”
She also loves the story of where Hanukkah — the Festival of Lights — originated. According to Chabad.org, in the second century BCE, a small group of Jewish people led by Judah the Maccabee defeated a large army and recaptured the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
The group then tried to light the menorah but found just enough olive oil for one night. Somehow, that oil lasted for eight days.
“The story always amazes me,” Carly said. “A little bit goes a long way.”
Lauren Halle’s family lives in Owings Mills and celebrates the holiday with three family parties, during which her daughters Mackenzie, almost 5 years old, and Samantha, 10, get to see their cousins and come away with presents.
At home, the two girls plus Lauren and her husband, Mike, light the candles and receive presents each night. This year is going to be a bit more special because Lauren Halle will be using a menorah she bought in Jerusalem on a recent trip to Israel.
“The kids think it’s pretty cool,” she said. “We also [will] sing a song every night while lighting [the candles].”
So, with Hanukkah 2017 coming to an end, the Feldman family is quite curious to see how 11-month-old Evelyn eventually becomes part of the festivities.
“We can’t wait.” Deborah Feldman said. “I’m sure she’s going to love the holiday as much as we do, especially when she gets presents.”