Idyllwild’s Jewish Temple Har Shalom (Mountain of Peace) celebrated its second Hanukkah as an Idyllwild congregation festively and inclusively. Of all the Jewish holidays, Hanukkah may be the most familiar to Christians because of its proximity to and occasional overlap with Christmas. Other similarities include the exchange of gifts, special meals, games and decorations, and an emphasis on candlelight.
Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights, with first one candle lit, then an additional candle on each night of the eight-day festival. Blessings are said with the lighting of each candle.
Temple President Pat Schnetzer recounted that 20 years ago, Idyllwild resident Jessica Shiffman started a tradition of having potlucks for the local Jewish community. But until two years ago, there was no local congregation to regularly celebrate Shabbat (the Sabbath) and High Holy Days. Now the Temple has 100 on its mailing lists, and draws 50 or more for High Holy Day services and 30 who regularly attend Friday night Shabbat. “We needed a place to come together and to welcome all,” said Schnetzer. “We’re inclusive and unaffiliated.” Schnetzer knows about inclusivity and welcoming those of different traditions. Raised Catholic, Schnetzer converted to Judiasm in 1995 and had her Bat Mitzvah two years later. She champions the Temple’s mission of providing welcome to all those who are interested in attending.
The Har Shalom website states, “Temple Har Shalom of Idyllwild was established to come together to worship, to study, to celebrate our happy occasions and to be a support to one another through difficult times. We are a diverse congregation. Among our families are couples with children, seniors, single parents, same-sex partners, interfaith couples and singles. We embrace the varied orientations of Judaism in contemporary society and want to make this place an extension of your home.”
Jeffrey Cohen, Temple event logistic coordinator, said of the Temple’s Hanukkah celebration and of the need to congregate together, “Jews are tribal. We enjoy breaking bread and coming together. There is a feeling of comradeship and community.”
Hanukkah, with translates as “rededication,” is a minor Jewish holiday that celebrates two miracles. It is not even a particularly religious holiday, but more of a commemorative historical celebration of faith and resilience. “There are two miracles,” said Schnetzer, “one of the oil and the other of the defeat of the Hellenic armies by a small Jewish force.”
Historically, Judea had been part of Hellenic oversight since the time of Alexander the Great. Under relatively benevolent rule, Jews could practice their religion and there was considerable blending of the two cultures, Jewish and Greek. That stopped with an invasion by the Seleucid (Syrian Hellenic) King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who desecrated the Temple, erected a statue of Zeus on the altar and began active persecution of the Jews and repression of Jewish religious practice.
But in one of the miracles noted by Schnetzer and celebrated during Hanukkah, Antiochus was defeated by a ragtag Jewish force in a revolt led by the young militant Judas Maccabeus. Maccabeus restored the Holy Temple to Jewish worship, and purified and rededicated it by lighting the Temple menorah. The candles on the menorah burned for eight days even though only enough sacred oil existed for one day’s lighting. And that is the miracle of light, the oil which could not last for eight days, but miraculously did. The lighting of the menorah candles is the centerpiece of Hanukkah celebrations.
Hence, Hanukkah is an eight-day observance celebrating the eight days the candles burned, with only enough oil for one. This year, Hanukkah began on Dec. 6 and lasted through the night of Dec. 13. These twin events have been celebrated by Jews since the success of the Maccabean Revolt in 167 B.C.E. (before Christian era).
Barry Zander, Temple fundraiser and secretary, noted how important the ongoing financial support of the Jewish Federation of the Desert as been to the success of the Temple Har Shalom. He also appreciates the congregation’s mission of inclusiveness. “I support Temple Har Shalom because I appreciate the latitude we have of being able to practice the religion as we prefer. I am totally comfortable with the concepts of Judaism as I understand them.” And that distinction, to practice as one understands the religion, is what drew Schnetzer to Judaism — the tradition of questioning that is a fundamental part of the religion. “I can question,” she said.
Next year, Hanukkah and Christmas will overlap. In 2016, Hanukkah begins on Dec. 24 and ends eight days later.
For more about Temple Har Shalom, visit www.templeharshalomidyllwild.org