Chanukah celebrations light up Manchester

By Jonathan Levy

MANCHESTER’S Jewish communities have been getting festive this December to celebrate Chanukah, the festival of light.

The festival, also known as Hanukkah, is observed for eight nights and celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, purity over adulteration and spirituality over materiality by the kindling of the lights of the nine-branched Menorah, one additional light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night.

On the first night of Chanukah, one candle is set to the far right of the menorah. A new light is lit every night of the festival moving from right to left on the menorah. The ninth candle is called the “Shamash” which acts as an attendant candle used to light all the others.

Chanukah falls on the twenty-fifth day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar based, every year the first day of Chanukah falls on a different day, usually sometime between late November and late December, this year it began on Friday 11 December 2009.

Jewish law states that Chanukah is one of the less important Jewish holidays but because many Jews live in predominately Christian societies, over time Chanukah has become much more festive and Christmas-like.

In Hebrew, the word “Chanukah” means “dedication”. The name reminds us that this holiday commemorates the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.E.

Jewish children receive gifts for Chanukah, often one gift for each of the eight nights of the holiday. Many parents hope that by making Chanukah extra special their children won’t feel left out of all the Christmas festivities going on around them.

Manchester is a thriving Jewish city with more than 30 synagogues: conservative, liberal, Masorti, orthodox, Portuguese, reform, Sephardi, and Spanish along with many kosher facilities.

This year Cheshire Reform Congregation, Manchester Reform Synagogue and North Manchester Reform Congregation decided to do something different.

They spent the weekend at Abbott Hall Hotel in Grange-Over Sands where they celebrated Chanukah and Shabbat with a stimulating programme of prayer, study and entertainment, all of which looked at celebrating Chanukah as reform Jews.

Scholar-in-Residence, Rabbi Shoshana Boyd-Gelfand hailed the weekend as a big success: “It was a most enjoyable weekend in which we really felt God’s presence.”

Although every community has its unique Chanukah traditions, there are some traditions that are almost universally practiced. They are: lighting candles on a Menorah for each of the eight nights, playing the game of spinning the Dreidel, and eating fried foods such as latkes and sufganiyot.

Because of the central role that oil played in the Chanukah miracle, it is customary to serve foods fried in oil and to eat dairy foods in commemoration of the bravery of Yehudit, who used cheese to defeat the Greek general Holofernes.

University of Manchester student, Alex Dwek, 21, had extra reason to celebrate this year’s Chanukah after being elected the new chairman of the National Union of Jewish Students.

Dwek’s campaign slogan ‘All Hands on Dwek’ saw off competition from Paloma Sackman from the University of Birmingham and Adam Parker from Oxford University to take the position which he will be starting in June 2010.

The University of Salford Jewish Society had their first ever Chanukah celebrations which featured food and music, a raffle and dreidel games.

Manchester Liberal Jewish Community, who seek to include those who have experienced exclusion and discrimination on account of their gender, sexuality, disability or halakhic status, celebrated Chanukah with members of Manchester Reform Synagogue and the Rabbi Dr Reuven Silverman on Friday 18 December with a feast of latkes, doughnuts and chanukiyot.

The Nicky Alliance Centre which looks after the elderly and vulnerable in the Jewish community are appealing for financial support this Chanukah.

In the last 12 months the centre has struggled with the recession’s impact on people’s ability to give. The centre is in desperate need of two minibuses to transport members to and from the centre whilst they need to raise nearly £12,000 to repair the leaking roof.

This year the centre’s Chanukah appeal is asking people to donate as much or as little as they can in order to continue the good work the centre does for so many Manchester residents.

It isn’t the only recession-hit centre however as Manchester Jewish Museum in Cheatham Hill is also in financial trouble.

Speaking to The Prestwich Advertiser, Anne Millan, chair of trustees at the museum, said: “We are a private museum and rely almost solely on donations.

“It has been really difficult for us in the present downturn because we only get a very small grant from the government.

“The museum is an important facility both in the Jewish community and in the wider community.

“We enjoy extremely good relations with representatives of all the local ethnic groups – church groups, mosques, Sikh temples, and Manchester Cathedral so that the museum is an important part of maintaining social cohesion in Manchester.”

David Teacher, chair of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, said: “If the museum closes, it would be a tragedy.

Donating just £5 a month would safeguard the future of the museum.”

To financially support the museum or for more information call it on 0161 834 9879.

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