Members of Harford County's Jewish community begin the annual eight-day celebration of Hanukkah tonight (Wednesday) and, like their counterparts across the country, they will also enjoy Thanksgiving in the midst of that observance.
Hanukkah begins Wednesday at sundown and lasts through Dec. 4.
Hanukkah typically takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year's late Thanksgiving – the latest the holiday can occur – and the alignment of the Hebrew calendar means there will be an overlap between it and Hanukkah, an atypical occurrence that last happened in 1888 and isn't expected again for more than 70,000 years, according to various estimates.
Rabbi Gila Ruskin of Temple Adas Shalom in Havre de Grace said the blending of two family-oriented holidays will allow people who do not always see their extended or immediate family members at Hanukkah – since they live far away from each other – will be able to get together Thursday and celebrate both holidays.
"So usually people make choices, when are we going to get together?" Ruskin said. "This time the holidays coincide."
Jewish families gather each night of Hanukkah to light candles in a menorah to remember the immediate period after Jewish rebels known as the Maccabees overthrew the Seleucids, or Syrian-Greeks, who had ruled the Holy Land during ancient times.
The Maccabees retook the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and, according to the story traditionally told during Hanukkah, the priests only had enough oil to light the temple for one day.
By a miracle of God, the oil lasted eight nights, however, giving the Hebrews enough time to gather more oil.
"A small group gathered together and fought back and then had a miraculous victory over the great mighty Greek army," said Rabbi Kushi Schusterman, of Chabad of Harford County in Bel Air.
Jewish congregations in Harford County, including the Chabad and Temple Adas Shalom, will host public menorah lightings.
"As we light more lights each night we're increasing the holiness in the world," Ruskin said.
Chabad's menorah lighting will take place at 5 p.m. Sunday in Shamrock Park in Bel Air. Attendees are encouraged to bring goods to benefit SARC, or Safety-Awareness-Resources-Change, a Harford County organization formed to assist victims of domestic violence.
"Anyone of any faith is welcome to come; anyone is welcome to add light to those peoples' lives," said Schusterman, who is a SARC board member.
Chabad is also hosting a slew of other Hanukkah events this week; more information can be found online at http://www.harfordchabad.org.
Families which are members of the Adas Shalom congregation will light the menorah on the temple grounds each night of Hanukkah and then the public is invited to celebrate the last night of Hanukkah at 6 p.m. on Dec.4.
The temple is at 8 N. Earlton Road Extended, at the intersection of Earlton Road and Route 155, just outside of Havre de Grace.
"Everyone's invited," Ruskin said.
Ruskin noted the convergence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving could be "particularly meaningful for Americans, I think, because there's a message of religious freedom."
She also described Hanukkah as a "holiday of lights and warmth."
"If we don't get together with people, it's dark and cold and lonely, but we do get together and celebrate these winter holidays and it's a way of increasing joy," she explained.
Families typically celebrate Hanukkah with special foods, games and gifts for children.
Ruskin said children enjoy receiving gifts, but she noted the importance of teaching children the meaning of giving gifts – she said her children were given small amounts of money each night, which was put away for charity.
Her family then decided at the end of the Hanukkah week where the money would be donated.
"The idea of giving presents doesn't just mean receiving presents it means giving to our community...." she said. "Of course the kids love getting presents, but they need to also be taught about giving to others."