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Temple B'Nai Israel celebrates third night of Hanukkah, Friday

By JR Ortega
Dec. 3, 2010 at 6:03 a.m.

Susan Branfman carries food to the table before the lighting of the menorah and blessing of the food during Temple B'nai Israel's Hanukkah celebration Friday evening at the temple. Friday was the third day of the eight-day celebration.

The best part of Hanukkah for Becky Fogal is the food - and a lot of it.

Latkes, or potato cakes and challah, or braided bread, hug the gold-plated, flameless menorah sitting atop a dining table.

The Temple B'Nai Israel in Victoria celebrated the third night of the Jewish holiday on Friday with a communal dinner, gift exchange and service.

"Hanukkah is not as structured," the 23-year-old said, adding that the holiday has a festive, more casual feel to it than other Jewish holidays, such as Yom Kippur and Passover.

Hanukkah commemorates the rebellion of the Maccabee priests against the Syrians and the lighted oil lamp that burned brightly in the Holy Temple for eight days rather than the expected one day.

The experience is familial, because the congregation only has about 30 people, Rabbi Shira Lander said.

"It's really like having a large, extensive family," she said.

Many of the foods offered at the dinner are deep-fried, which is symbolic of the oil that burned for eight days.

Prior to dinner, Lander led a blessing at the lighting of each candle on the menorah, which is lit from right to left.

Each candle is lit with the shamash, or the ninth and highest candle on the menorah, which is used to light all the others.

The celebration is a personal one, Fogal said.

"Judaism is a novelty here," she said.

Her brother, Ben Fogal, 14, said a lot of his younger counterparts at school do not understand the celebration but they do show a great interest in learning about it, which makes him happy.

"I always explain the story to them," he said.

For the most part, students at Fogal's school celebrate Christmas.

Yet, he has never felt left out.

The Fogals were raised Jewish and receive their presents.

Each receive eight presents, one is opened each day, from the smallest gift to the largest, both Fogals explained.

Religion aside, the holiday really is like Christmas in that it celebrates family and community, Lander said.

"It was never about the gifts when I was a kid," she said. "It was about the family."



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