December 8, 2004 in City

A celebration of freedom

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

On the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, members of the Amstadter family light their menorah candles as they recite the blessings in their South Hill home Tuesday evening.
(Full-size photo)

Susan and Ira Amstadter assemble their three children each night of Hanukkah around the family’s South Hill front window.

Tuesday evening, the family lit the first candles of their menorahs for the first night of Hanukkah.

Although Hanukkah isn’t the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar, it’s a significant expression of their faith, Susan Amstadter said.

Logan Amstadter, 14, said that the traditions surrounding the holiday remind her that she is part of a larger community, including an estimated 2,000 Jews in the Inland Northwest.

“It’s pretty cool to know that there are a lot of people out there who are doing the same thing at the same time,” Logan said.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem more than 2,100 years ago. A Jewish family rebelled against a Syrian king who had outlawed Judaism. After Jews miraculously won the revolt, they decided to have a rededication ceremony for the temple and relight the eternal light. Although there was only enough oil to last one day, the lamp stayed lit for eight days. So Hanukkah lasts eight days.

“We don’t celebrate victories of war,” Ira Amstadter said. “It’s about human freedom.”

On Tuesday, the Amstadters and their French exchange student lit five menorahs, a candelabrum with nine candles. First they lit a shamash, a candle on each menorah used to light the remaining candles.

The exchange student, Melodie Baudet, 17, isn’t Jewish but said she wanted to participate to experience the ceremony.

They then sang three Hebrew blessings and used each shamash to light one candle, representing the first day of the festival.

“We’re just thanking God that we’re here,” Susan Amstadter said.

Each of the Amstadters’ menorahs is unique. One was made by friends. Another belonged to Ira’s grandmother. But none is designated to a certain family member.

Every night, the family will light an additional candle until all eight candles (plus the shamash) are lit.

Susan Amstadter said that the candles must burn themselves out unaided, which takes about a half hour.

As the family waited for the candles to burn themselves out, Zeke Amstadter, 8, played dreidel, a gambling game played during Hanukkah. After spinning the dreidel dozens of times along with two of his friends who did not participate in the lighting, Zeke was the big winner (but his stacks of pennies aren’t for keeps; they’ll be used for the next game later this week).

When Zeke and his pals were through playing dreidel, the family went to the kitchen where Susan heated up latkes, which are potato pancakes and traditional Hanukkah fare. This year, Susan found a new recipe that included cauliflower. The family will have a meal associated with Hanukkah one or two more times during the festival.

Fried foods like latkes are used because they’re made with oil, a significant symbol of the Temple’s rededication.

Celebrating Hanukkah is a priority, but life goes on. After the candles were lit on Tuesday, Beverly Amstadter, 13, hurried off to basketball practice, missing the latke meal.

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