As the city prepares for Christmas, we take a closer look at an often-overlooked festivity which takes place at the same time — Hanukkah.
City streets decked in fairy light, Christmas trees at shop windows and the aroma of cakes and guava jelly cooking permeates the air — one knows that Christmas has arrived. However, even as Mumbaikars prepare for the ‘season to be jolly’, the city’s smallest minority — the Jews — are preparing for a different, though equally joyous occasion, Hanukkah. The festival commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Romans. The day falls on the 25th day of Kislev (the third month of the Jewish civil year), which has coincided with Christmas this year. We spoke to a few Jewish families in the city to find out more about the festival and how they spread the joy.
‘Most families have special heirloom Hanukkiah’
Herzl Simon: Herzl Simon, who is a Jewish social worker, is planning to celebrate the festival with his family at home, and visit other synagogues. “We will be visiting different synagogues during different days of Hannukah. There’s also going to be a celebration at the Swatantrayaveer Savarkar Smarak Hall (Dadar) on December 27,” he says. Herzl also elaborates that though the original Israeli Jewish ceremony dictates that the lights have to be lit with olive oil, the Beneisraeli Jews, who are indigenous to Maharashtra, go about it a different way. “We use coconut oil instead. It is of a high quality and has to be sanctified. The Hanukkiah we have has been handed down through my grandmother, who said she got it from her mother in law, so it dates back further than a century. Most families have special heirloom Hanukkiah like this,” he further explains.
‘Each day a different family member lights the Hanukkiah’
Samuel Elijah Daniel: Samuel Elijah Daniel, or Sammy Bamnolkar, who is an active member of the Jewish community in Thane, stands in front of the Hanukkiah at Gate of Heaven synagogue and explains how each day one lamp is added to it. “On the first day, we light two oil lamps, one on the bottom row and the top lamp. As days progress, we keep adding candles. In all, 44 candles are lit through the eight days of Hannukah and each day a different family member lights it,” he elaborates. It is not only the lighting of the candles of course. Sammy adds that the occasion is also celebrated with special sweets like doughnuts and potato pancakes, as well as an exchange of gifts among Jewish families. “We also have a game for kids, where they play with a spinning top, which has Jewish words written on it. This is both educational and fun,” he adds.
‘Sabbath is always a celebration at our home’
Sharon Galsurkar: “According to Jewish customs, our day starts with sunset, so the eight days of Hanukkah will begin on December 24, in the evening,” explains Sharon Galsurkar, who works as a Jewish educator. “When the Holy Temple was reclaimed, it is said that there was very little oil to light the Hanukkiah, the nine-branched candelabrum, which needed to stay lit for eight days. However, by some miracle, the candles stayed lit despite the shortage. It is this miracle we celebrate along with the reclaiming of our temple by lighting candles each day,” he adds.
Sharona, Sharon’s wife, adds that this year will be extra special for Hanukkah, since the first day of the celebration also coincides with the celebration of Sabbath (regarded as a holy day). “Sabbath is always a celebration at our home and I’m usually busy cooking up a storm on Fridays. Now, Saturday evening will also be a celebration,” she smiles, adding that she has family coming all the way from New Zealand to celebrate with them.