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McHenry County Jewish Congregation celebrates Hanukkah

A menorah sits in the window at the McHenry County Jewish Congregation in Crystal Lake.
A menorah sits in the window at the McHenry County Jewish Congregation in Crystal Lake.

A light in the darkness: That’s how McHenry County Jewish Congregation Rabbi Tom Samuels described Hanukkah.

“It represents a point of light in the midst of the darkness,” Samuels said. “It’s very important.”

Hanukkah, or the festival of lights, is an eight-day Jewish celebration. It often is celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, fried food, games and gifts, Samuels said.

Samuels said the Hebrew word for Hanukkah means “dedication.” The festivities commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem when Jews, led by Judah the 
Maccabee, defeated the Greeks more than 2,000 years ago.

According to tradition, when Jews tried to light the temple’s menorah, they only found a single container of oil that had not been defiled by the Greeks. However, they lit the menorah, and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days.

Hanukkah began Sunday and continues through Monday. On Tuesday, the congregation, at 8617 Ridgefield Road in Crystal Lake, lit another candle on its menorah.

“We all share the same human experiences and hopes and dreams,” Samuels said. “Hanukkah is that point of light in the middle of the darkness to give eight days of a little bit of light – not a lot of light, just a little bit of light. A flicker. It’s a metaphor for the individual, for the community and the world.”

The “light is not to destroy the darkness” because darkness “is part of life,” he said.

“It’s to mitigate it a bit,” Samuels said.

In October, a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 people. Samuels said this Hanukkah will mean something different to every Jew, but he’s hopeful.

“The resilience of the Jewish people has always been to have that little bit of light and hope,” he said, adding that hope is an active verb in Hebrew. “It’s something you have to work on knowing that it’s an ever-ongoing and -evolving process.”

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