This week sees Jewish people around the world celebrating Hanukkah.
In Saskatoon, Rabbi Raphael Kats said about 500 families are taking part in traditional activities like lighting candles in the eight-branched menorah for each night of the festival. Kats said many will also be frying up traditional doughnuts and latkes to mark the occasion.
“The Jewish community here is definitely smaller than it is in larger cities. But because we are smaller, we are also warmer and more welcoming,” Kats said with a chuckle.
While the modern holiday is a celebration of good times with friends and family, Kats said it is rooted in something all faiths can understand.
“Many people don’t know this, but (Hanukkah) is the earliest documented struggle for religious freedom. So therefore, it has a universal message. Not just for the Jewish people as a Jewish holiday, but for the world,” he said.
Kats explained that the festival commemorates a 2100-year-old victory by Jewish forces against a king who tried to ban the religion.
After driving their enemies out of Jerusalem, the Jewish rebels found only one bottle of sacred olive oil left to re-dedicate their temple. The story has it that the oil was only enough to keep the temple menorah lit for one day, but miraculously, it lasted for eight — enough time for new oil to become available. Kats said that is why menorah lighting remains part of the tradition.
Kats said that while Hanukkah has been celebrated for centuries, the profile of the holiday has changed recently.
“It is true that over the past 40 years Hanukkah has taken a much more public role – and perhaps it has to do with the holiday season and the need to celebrate a holiday publicly and proudly,” he said.
Kats said the Jewish community would be running a ‘menorah motorcade’ event on Wednesday night.
This year, Hanukkah ends on Dec. 14.