Hanukkah has meaning for everyone because it recalls a time when a small, devout family of defenders repelled a force of invaders, Homeland Center Chaplain Dann Caldwell told residents attending a ceremony commemorating the Festival of Lights.
“This is all part of the shared history we have as human beings,” Caldwell said. “It should remind all of us how God values freedom, freedom to worship, and freedom to be a community of faith. That is something that all goodhearted people can celebrate, and clearly, something that Jewish and Christian friends can celebrate.”
Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees after their victory over the Syrian-Greeks in the second century B.C. Upon recapturing the Temple, only one day’s supply of undefiled lamp oil remained, but the oil lasted a miraculous eight days.
During Hanukkah, each of the eight days is marked by lighting a candle on the menorah.
The ceremony brought together Homeland residents and staff in the Homeland chapel to hear the history of Hanukkah, light a menorah, say blessings, sing traditional songs, and for a special surprise, enjoy latkes in the Homeland Diner.
“Homeland respects the array of religious traditions under its roof,” said resident Lee Spitalny.
“Chaplain Caldwell is so involved and thoughtful about including Jewish tradition here,” she said before the ceremony. “He and his wife came to our synagogue’s Hanukkah dinner. He will come to everything we do.”
Lee brought a greeting card, given to her by a Catholic friend, that spelled out “Happy Hanukkah” in pop-up letters. She recalled Hanukkah celebrations with her family over the years.
“A lot of people think Hanukkah is a Jewish Christmas,” she said. “It’s not. It’s a gift-giving holiday to little kids, but it really is not connected to Christmas. I hope others who aren’t Jewish realize that it’s not a big important holiday, but it’s a fun one.”
Caldwell and Homeland Manager of Information Technology and Strategy Jennifer Ross led the service, with help from Homeland’s Activities Department. Ross explained that Hanukkah is a smaller “festival holiday,” when Jews are permitted to work, unlike other Jewish holidays.
“You’ll see me at work throughout the holiday of Hanukkah because I have no restrictions,” she told the residents.
Ross led participants in the traditional blessing, or shehecheyanu, before lighting the menorah candles. She also added the one spoken on the first night only that says, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has given us life and sustained us and enabled us to reach this season.”
“I think it’s extra special to do the first blessing because this is such a nice, joyous blessing, and it’s all about health and wonders,” she said. “There’s never harm in adding an extra shehecheyanu, so we’ll say that one particularly joyously.”
After lighting the candles, Ross led the residents in singing the familiar “The Dreidel Song” and “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah.” She closed with readings from “The Jewish Book of Days” about the festival’s meaning.
“We celebrate midwinter because of the knowledge that the sun will return to bring light and warmth,” she read.
Finally, residents got to enjoy a treat – potato pancakes known as latkes, prepared by the Front Street Diner in Susquehanna Township and served in the 1950s-style Homeland Diner.
While enjoying her latkes, resident Lois Galowitz said the ceremony was “very nice.” She still gathers for Hanukkah, sometimes over Zoom, with her extended family, which includes six nieces and nephews and 14 great-nieces and -nephews.
“We enjoy being together and celebrating,” she said. “It’s something we do every year. It’s a very special time to be together.”
While enjoying latkes, resident Chuck Glazier remembered the Jewish deli he owned in Allentown. There, he sold hot pastrami and hot corned beef.
“We’d celebrate Hanukkah, and I’d have menorahs in the deli,” he said, adding that he enjoyed Homeland’s Hanukkah commemoration. “Any service is nice, as long as you remember the holiday.’’