Every month the Harris County Democratic Party will be welcoming guest Democratic bloggers to the website and allowing them to discuss a variety of topics. This month we welcome Houston City Council Member Ellen Cohen, discussing Hanukkah.Tonight we celebrate the final night of Hanukkah, an eight-day holiday in Judaism that commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean Revolt against the Greek Empire.
This year, the timing of Hanukkah was unique in that, for the first time in 125 years, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlapped. “Thanksgivukkah,” as the dual-holiday is being called, gave us a rare opportunity to reflect on the overlying theme that these two holidays share: the giving of thanks. In fact, the Talmud describes Hanukkah as a “holiday of thanks giving,” since it honors the unlikely victory of a small band of Jewish rebels, called the Maccabees, who overcame vastly larger armies in a fight for religious freedom.
During the Greek reign in Judea, Judaism was outlawed and the Holy Temple had been repurposed as an altar to Zeus. After their triumph, the Maccabees re-dedicated the Temple and sought to re-light its menorah, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. However, only a small quantity of pure oil could be obtained—enough to keep the menorah lit for a single night. Miraculously, the oil lasted for a total of eight nights, allowing the Maccabees time to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil.
While Hanukkah is not considered one of the High Holy Days in Judaism, the commemoration of its history and the rituals of the holiday are viewed by many as an important symbol of Jewish identity. Dishes that have been fried or baked in oil are symbolic of the miracle of the oil, and enjoying treats such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts) is one of my family’s favorite Hanukkah traditions. In fact, this year my 98-year-old mother flew across country to join me for Hanukkah with 50 homemade frozen latkes packed into her suitcase!
Houston is the most diverse city in the nation, which means that tolerance of all religions and cultures is particularly critical to the well-being of our city. As the first Jewish female to serve on Houston City Council, I appreciate the opportunity to share some of the holiday traditions of my faith. I want to thank the Harris County Democratic Party for the invitation to do so.