What Matters: Reflections of Hanukkah

BY: pradm2n


As the Hanukkah season comes to a close, we take a fun look back the childhood memories of Fran Ely who grew up in a Jewish home. Her warm and witty personality makes for a lighthearted look at the traditions of Hanukkah, from its meaning to the food and games she enjoyed as a child.



Welcome to What Matters on Prayables Radio. I'm your host Twana James, I'm a member of the online community  for women of all different faiths share the same common bond of making prayer a priority in our every day lives. As this year's Hanukkah season comes to a close, we take a reflective look at the Jewish tradition and talk with a new friend, Fran Eli, about her memories of growing up in a Jewish family. She dispels some of the myths and she gives us a little clarity on some of the season's most commonly celebrated traditions. I really enjoyed my conversation with Fran, who loves to poke a little fun at herself and her Jewish culture. First she wants to clear up some myths.

You cannot compare Christmas to Hanukkah. There is no such thing as a Hanukkah bush. People don't understand that Jews don't really care about Christmas. They think 'well, can't you have a tree anyway?' Or 'don't you have presents anyway?' And the thing is that it's really not a big deal to us, we didn't grow up that way and so they don't understand why I don't like coming to work on Christmas, but it's just a matter of what's been put into your head from when you were little. Actually my family was in the retail business so we looked at Christmas from the other end. It was, you know 'Ho, ho, ho!'

Still, Fran said she had fond memories of the holiday season traditions.

When I was a child, Hanukkah was celebrated with minor gifts and lighting candles for eight days. Some people prefer to give presents on the eight days but that's not really necessary. It's not a religious holiday like Christmas, it can't even compare to Christmas, and even though it's celebrated for eight days, the presents are nothing like Christmas. You don't get a bicycle for Hanukkah, you might get a pair of boots or a coloring book.

Fran says the lighting of the candles is especially exciting.

Because fire was involved and you got to light and a match and we would sing a prayer over those candles every night and it goes like this:

Baruch atah Adonai.

Baruch means blessing and it's got the same root as our President Barack, Baruch Obama's name comes from. Baruch atah Adonai is a blessing to God.

Baruch ata Adonai, Elohenu melech ha-olam asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav, ve-tzivanu le-hadlik ner shel Hanukah.

And then you light a candle. An exciting night for a kid, like new years eve.

And no Hanukkah celebration is complete without food.

Hanukkah is also celebrated by eating potato pancakes or potato latkes, as they're known. The way to make those properly is to grate the potatoes, you don't put them in a food processor, they come out grate and they're eaten with either apple sauce or sour cream on top, but if you're rich and decadent you can put sour cream and caviar on top, and they're really good.

Along with music, the lighting of candles and food is a fun game called dradle, Fran explains.

A dradle is a four sided top. And each side of the top has a different letter on it and when you spin the dradle according to which letter lands facing up, you either have to give or take. It's a gambling game. You start with a pile of candy or pennies and if it lands on the gimmel, which is the Hebrew letter for G, you have to give money into the pile. If it's another letter you can take all the money out of the pile but nowadays I think it's been replaced by wii's and playstation 2.

Fran tracing her heritage back to her family, who came to the United States from Eastern Europe to escape the Holocaust.

When my grandparents came here, I have a grandfather had 8 brothers and sisters that came one by one to America as they could afford it. And of those 8 brothers and sisters, they started a family circle and that family circle threw a Hanukkah party every year and this year it was attended by over 80 people from those original 8 children from all over the country came last week.

Although much of Fran's family has remained deep in celebration of Hanukkah, Fran says over the years some have let go of their long time Jewish traditions.

My mother kept a Kosher house because that's how she grew up. But when we started going to school and behaving like the other children, she didn't have a choice. She doesn't keep Kosher anymore, neither do we. Another thing - you don't mix milk with meat. The theory behind that is if you're going to eat the cow then don't eat it with it's own child's milk. So that way you couldn't even eat a cheese burger or a pepperoni pizza, although pepperoni is pork so you couldn't eat that anyway. But you don't do that and no I don't keep Kosher. I'm a Jew because I was born a Jew and when my daughter was born with a blank little slate of a mind, she was a Jew too.

Thank you so much Fran you are a a warm and witty addition to my program. I really enjoyed my conversation with Fran. She is seriously a hoot and I had a great time learning all about the Hanukkah tradition and she also enlightened me on historical meaning behind celebration. As we know, Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of life but the celebration commemorates the miracle of the oil, which over 2000 years ago, the Jews in Judaia rebelled against their Syrian ruler because he insisted all the Jewish people must worship Greek gods. Well after three hard years of fighting, the Jews were victorious and celebrate - they restored the temple of Jerusalem, which had been taken over by the Syrians and rededicated to their gods. So as part of the celebration, they lit an oil lamp, which even though they could only find enough oil to keep it burning for one night, a miracle occurred and the oil lamp stayed lit for 8 days, which was the time it took to make new oil for the lamp and this is what they call the miracle of the oil, hence the celebration.

It was then declared that every year Jews would remember the day with an eight day festival of light that would celebrate the miracle of the oil by placing 8 candles in a Menorah and lighting one candle for each evening of the celebration. And the Hanukkah lights are meant to remind those walking by the home about the holiday's miracle so the Menorah is generally displayed in the front window or near the front door for visitors to see. And you may have noticed during the feature that I used the song Hava Nagila, a song that I heard for many years, and I never actually knew what it meant. The term Hava Nagila means let's rejoice and it's often played at Jewish weddings, Bar Mitzvah's and of course Hanukkah. And it's been recorded by many artists all over the world, from the middle east to eastern Europe and the United States, including Harry Bellefonte, which I was really surprised to learn. Bob Dylan's recorded the song, Nina Horn, Connie Francis and since today is sort of the official close to this years celebration, I wanted to play a special version of the song that I was really surprised to find. It was recorded in 1963 by rock n' roll superstar, Chubby Checker.

Song is played.

All right, Chubby Checker with Hava Nagila as we bring this year's Hanukkah season to a sort of a unofficial close. I myself am not Jewish but I am a member of the prayables.com website. It's a community of women of all different faiths and I plan to talk to women of all different backgrounds about their religious celebration, their personal prayers and how they've been answered and I think there's a lot to learn from the Hanukkah celebration. To celebrate our victories, to celebrate life and let's rejoice as that song, Hava Nagila, says. I invite you to log-on to the prayables.com website, again that's prayables.com. We are a group of women of all different faiths that share the same values; we all look to make prayer a priority in our every day lives, so we encourage you to log-on to the website to learn more and to join and become a part of our community.

We have many prayers featured on theprayables.com website, and we actually have a special collection and at the end of each program, we like to end all of our shows with a special prayer from that collection. Tonight I picked a prayer from the collection that really has to do with family and celebrating. For some of us Christmas is coming up and we're inviting all of the relatives over to the house and it's going to be crowded in some areas and full, and you know how it is when you have your family over. Sometimes you're praying ahead of time to make sure everything goes smoothly. So here's a prayer that you may want to consider. 

One, Big, Happy, by Lori Strawn.


Thank you again to Fran Eli for participating in this week's program and thank you to the prayables.com community. I hope that you have time to enjoy or actually tune in again next week for more talk on What Matters on Prayables Radio. Have a great week ahead. God Bless.


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