By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Hanukkah starts tonight
Holiday lighting the way
Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, runs from Dec. 11-18. - photo by Jennifer Sami

Thousands of Christmas lights shine from homes across Forsyth County, though for some families the holiday season is represented by just eight lights.

Tonight marks the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights.

The holiday celebrates the rededication of the Jewish temple more than 2,000 years ago, according to the Torah.

Hanukkah is celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar and lasts for eight days, typically during December.

Stacey Brustein said she and her husband, Sam, have “definitely decorated beforehand.”

“We’ve decorated the house with dreidel holiday lights and snowmen,” the Forsyth County resident said. “And we have a light-up menorah that goes in the window.”

The holiday celebrates a miracle, which followed the destruction of the holy temple.

While rebuilding the temple, Jews rounded up enough olive oil to provide light for one day. But the oil miraculously lasted for eight days, enabling the reconstruction and rededication of the temple.

In remembrance, Jewish families light a special Hanukkah candleholder, called a chanukiah, and recite a prayer.

Beginning with one candle on the first night, an additional candle is lit daily until the last night, which this year is Dec. 18, when all eight candles glow in remembrance.

A special candle, called the shamash, acts as a guard over the other candles and is used to light the other eight.

The holiday is a celebration with family, and the Brusteins are doing just that.

“By the second night my brother and his wife and their baby will be here, and my parents are in town and my father-in-law will probably make latkes [potato pancakes] one night and we’ll just light the candles and give the kids their presents,” she said. “We try to play the dreidel game and ... we try to sing one or two songs.”

The dreidel, a four-sided top symbolizing the miracle in Israel, is a traditional Hanukkah game played by young children. But for many kids, getting to open a different gift each night is the highlight.

Brustein’s three children, who range in age from 2 to 9 years old, “get way too many gifts between all the family and my parents living close by.”

“When I was little, I remember getting erasers and socks and things like that," she said. "They get much bigger things [now].”

Forsyth County residents Mark and Laurie Shefrin don’t have to worry too much about getting the latest gifts, as their daughter is just 2 years old.

At that age, Mark Shefrin said, it’s "more important to make sure she has fun and learns a little bit.”

“It’s moreso [about] learning to love her family and her heritage than it is anything really specific,” he said. “Part of being Jewish is that it’s a very family-oriented religion.”

As an adult, Shefrin said the holiday is “a time for reflection.”

While he enjoys teaching the traditions to his daughter, the similarities allow him to “look back and miss those relatives that aren’t here with me now.”

Mike Bodker and his wife, Aileen, will celebrate the holiday with their 7-year-old children, Jake and Keri, and local family members.

Bodker, the mayor of Johns Creek, said he celebrates the holiday with his own children the same way he learned to celebrate as a child. Teaching traditions to children follows the Jewish concept of l’dor v’dor, or from generation to generation.

“Judaism really revolves around tradition,” he said. “We take advantage of every opportunity to reinforce the education that the kids receive on what Hanukkah is and what it’s all about and why it is important.

“We try to focus less on the gifts and more on the holiday. But of course when you’re 7 years old, the gifts are pretty much No. 1.”