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Menorah lighting celebrates the miracle

Aeryn Harris placed her bet by pushing a nubby, “carrot-orange” crayon toward the center of the table. Then she spun her plastic top like a seasoned dreidel player.

But Sunday marked the 12-year-old’s first foray into Hanukkah. Her father, Clinton, recently went to Beth Sholom Temple in Stafford County to study the Torah in an attempt to deepen his Christian faith. He is now in the midst of converting to Judaism.

“I like to say that I followed Jesus into the synagogue,” Clinton said as Aeryn raked in waxy loot after a successful spin of the dreidel.

The family plans to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas this year. But a car accident last Wednesday made for an inauspicious start for the Harris’s Han-ukkah début.

Clinton studied the holiday, learning that Jews celebrate Hanukkah to remember the Macabees, a small band of Jews who rebelled against Greek rule and took back their temple in 160 B.C.

When the Macabees rededicated the Jewish temple, they only had enough oil to light the candle for one night. But that oil lasted for eight nights, until new oil could be purified. An eight-day festival was instituted to mark that miracle.

But while Clinton knew the holiday’s origins, he wasn’t quite sure how to celebrate. Sunday evening’s event helped his family learn how to embrace this new tradition.

“You can ask questions and read whatever you want, but to see it in action is awesome,” he said.

Clinton’s wife Liz isn’t joining his conversion journey. But she is on board for adding Hanukkah to the celebratory lineup.

“I like learning what other religions believe and celebrate,” she said. “They all have one goal in common. ”

“ Community,” her husband finished, gesturing at the table where children lined up to play with dreidels, eat doughnuts and color holiday pictures.

And community was exactly what local developer Adam Fried, a member of Beth Sholom Temple, envisioned when he decided to order a 12-foot menorah to shine publicly.

Beth Sholom organized the area’s first public menorah lighting ceremony Sunday evening, an event attended by about 100 people—and two Chihuahuas wearing puffy winter coats.

The lighting provided not just a place for temple members and others to celebrate Hanukkah in public but also provided an opportunity to fulfill a mitzvah, or Jewish commandment.

Hanukkah has a mitzvah to publicize the miracle of light and so menorahs are supposed to be on display—in Israel, they are often hung outside. In America, menorahs often sit in window-sills.

“Hanukkah is not meant to be hidden,” said Rob Jobrack, temple president. “A menorah’s supposed to be outside to remind people of the miracle—and it’s great that we’re having this lighting here in Fredericksburg, which is the home of the Statute of Religious Freedom, because the story of Hanukkah is about a fight for religious freedom.”

That fight still lingers, Jobrack said. There are no rebel armies or revolts. But Jews are quietly trying to give the Festival of Lights its own limelight outside of the glow of Christmas.

Sunday evening, 16-year-old Colin Lightfoot lit some of the menorah’s wicks as part of the public celebration. The gentle whiz of cars driving by the menorah just west of U.S. 1 at Twin Lake Drive, provided the soundtrack.

The menorah’s candles let off a mere glimmer of light but it was enough for the holiday to step out of the shadows produced by fiery yule logs and twinkling trees.

As the menorah winked against the dusk sky, Rabbi Ronda Wanderman Young told the crowd, “A great miracle happened here in Fredericksburg: the first public menorah.”

Then she and Rabbi Neumiro DeSilva led the audience in a rousing song from the Scriptures, “Not by power, not by might but by spirit alone.”

Amy Umble: 540/735-1973