While many residents in the Triangle were Christmas shopping, hundreds of people were making their own preparations for Hanukkah in Durham.
The Levin Community Center held its annual Hanukkah Fest on Sunday afternoon, one week before the beginning of the holiday. The festival included a bazaar for people shopping for gifts, a dreidel tournament and live music.
Steve Schauder, the executive director for the center, said the festival was meant to attract Jewish and non-Jewish residents alike. The center focuses on Jewish cultural activities, but anyone can join.
Sunday’s event was open to the public, and Schauder said he was hoping to bring the joy of the holiday to everyone – including Jewish people who are less religious or interfaith families that celebrate multiple holidays in December.
“We’re just trying to get people together,” he said. “This happens to be a holiday, because it really coincides with Christmas …, (that) is pretty universally celebrated.”
Hanukkah celebrates the Maccabean Revolt in the second century B.C., when the ancient Hebrews defeated the ruling Seleucid Empire. The empire had outlawed Jewish religious customs and erected an altar to the Greek god Zeus in a holy temple in Jerusalem.
A small band of Jews called the Maccabees mounted a successful revolt against the empire. After throwing the occupying army out of Jerusalem, they rededicated the temple and held an eight-day celebration. “Every Jewish holiday can be summarized as, ‘They tried to kill us; we won, let’s eat,’ ” Schauder said.
Hanukkah doesn’t start until sunset on Dec. 8 this year, but people are already preparing themselves. Meg Anderson, a member of the nearby Beth El Synagogue, said many people wait until the last minute to buy menorahs, candles and other things needed in the ceremonies surrounding the holiday. “There’s always a rush about a week before,” she said. “Hanukkah is relatively early this year.”
The holiday begins next Saturday and ends the following Sunday. Since it is scheduled, like all Jewish holidays, on the Hebrew calendar, it can fall anywhere from before Thanksgiving to late December. The rush can be compounded by the surrounding holidays – interfaith couples with children may have to prepare for Christmas as well.
In addition to the traditional meals and the lighting of the menorah, many families exchange gifts during the week. The bazaar in the back of the center gave people a chance to buy their gifts ahead of time, Schauder said.
But the event was more about celebrating and learning about the holiday for most families in attendance. Children played with dreidels and participated in crafts classes. In the center’s library, Hinda Lind and Stu Tepplin led kids songs like “Horray for Hanukkah,” “Light One Candle” and “Eight Little Lights.”
Families shared latkes (potato pancakes) and rugelach (traditional pastries). Greg Rapp, a member of the center who sits on the strategic planning board, spent the festival selling pastries at the bazaar. Rapp took the opportunity to compliment the skills of the kitchen staff at the center. “The challah they make here is the best in the area,” he said. “They make a real, traditional-style Challah – like something you’d find in New York.”
Rapp played a key role in getting the center built. It opened just over a year ago, in June of 2011, and Rapp said it has become an attraction for the Jewish community throughout the Raleigh-Durham area. Jews who attend different synagogues or live in different parts of town now have a place to congregate, he said.
“There hadn’t been anything like this in the community before,” he said. “It creates a place where everyone can cross-pollinate.”