Some were ornate, others simple. Some were tall, others were short and boxy. One took the form of Noah’s ark, another a tree, a third was a small village with candles like chimneys.
Dozens of varied hanukkiahs (hanukkiot) crowded the glass-topped table at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center Wednesday evening, when congregants met to celebrate the eighth and final night of Hanukkah. All burned bright with eight candles each, flames dancing along with the congregation as they sang and clapped along to the songs of Hanukkah.
Hanukkah is the holiday in the Jewish tradition that celebrates the miracle that a single day’s supply of oil lasted for eight days, during the rededication of the second temple in the second century B.C.E. The Jewish army had just won a difficult war against the Seleucids and had reclaimed their holy temple, which Jews also describe as a miracle.
Rabbi Caryn B. Broitman told those assembled that the candles, whose light filled the furthest reaches of the space, also represented miracles each person in the room had witnessed in the past, as well as those they hoped to come.
She asked the audience to share these miracles. “Family,” called out a mother from the first row. “My new kitten,” said a small child. “The fact that the oil lasted for eight days,” said another, recalling the story of Hanukkah.
“That we as Jews are still here.”
Ms. Broitman said the candles are often displayed prominently in the window of a Jewish home to spread the word of the Hanukkah miracle.
Each of the eight days of Hanukkah, another candle is added to the candelabrum and lit by the shamash or helper candle, which usually stands at the middle of the array. Long ago, two renowned rabbis, Shammai and Hillel, argued about the order of the candle lighting. Shammai felt that all candles should be lit on the first day, because that was the day when the miracle was greatest. Hillel took the opposite position, insisting that the candles demonstrate that the miracle increased in greatness each day. His is the tradition Jews observe today.
This year, for the first time since 1888, the first full day of Hanukkah coincided with Thanksgiving, an occurrence that, according to some estimates, will not happen again for almost 80,000 years.
After they sang Hanukkah, Oh, Hanukkah, Ocho Kandelikas, Dreidel, Dreidel and others, the congregants sat down to vegetarian fare and 500 potato latkes.
Hanukkah sameach! They said to each other. Happy Hanukkah.