A community commemoration of Hanukkah

In the aftermath of Ashland's Festival of Lights, the Jewish community has spent the last week celebrating the light of Hanukkah. The week's festivities kicked off with a menorah lighting on the Plaza last Tuesday with Mayor John Morrison and Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, and will continue through Dec. 11.

Over the weekend, all three synagogues hosted their own events, but members said the real significance of the week was the coming together of families and the entire Jewish community.

"In Ashland, it's such a small town and Jewish people are scattered throughout the town, whereas in bigger cities Jewish people tend to live in pockets," said Ellen Falkner, a member of Temple Emek Shalom. "When you're in a place like Ashland where everyone is scattered, it's much more meaningful to get everyone together."

The Hanukkah celebration in Ashland includes members from throughout the Rogue Valley, and drew people from as far as Grants Pass, Jacksonville and northern California.

Chabad Jewish Center of Southern Oregon, the most recent addition to the Rogue Valley community, hosted the public menorah lighting. The group, which came to Ashland four years ago, also sponsored an ice skating party in Medford, complete with a five-foot ice menorah.

Temple Emek Shalom hosted a potluck dinner with children's crafts, storytelling and singing on Saturday night, and Havurah Shir Hadash hosted its annual Hanukkah Faire on Sunday.

But the community gatherings are only a small part of the holiday. Most of it is spent at home or in small parties at friends' homes, lighting candles, eating foods fried in oil and exchanging small gifts.

Although it is a family- and children-focused holiday, the community makes an effort to include those without children at home.

"I like to have different guests every night," said Havurah member Steve Peppercorn. "Most Jewish holidays are all about family and kids. It's a real focus on community, and everyone's invited."

Peppercorn, who has a seven-year-old daughter, said he likes to give presents during Hanukkah, but not all of the Jewish community feels the same way.

Much of the gift-giving occurs in the West, a tradition largely picked up from the Christmas holiday. And although Hanukkah falls on the 25th of the Jewish month Kislev, the similarities with Christmas end there. To call Hanukkah the Jewish Christmas is ignorant to some and offensive to others.

"It's not accurate at all," said Rabbi Marc Sirinsky from Temple Emek Shalom. "It doesn't offend me. I'm glad for their attempt to understand what it is. It opens the discussion to what Hanukkah is. If they said nothing, it wouldn't open the door."

Hanukkah is actually a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, celebrating a miracle of oil lasting for eight days to provide light during the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem after a military victory that ensured the survival of the Jewish faith, long before Christianity began.

Sirinsky suspects that because Hanukkah falls in the holiday season, it will only grow in importance for Jews in the Western world.

But the holiday already holds a special place in local community members' hearts.

"It's not like a substitute for Christmas," said Susan Aaronson, a member of Temple Emek Shalom who converted from Catholicism 13 years ago and now celebrates Hanukkah with her family. "You don't miss it because now Christmas has become all about marketing."

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