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Festival of Lights brightens long Alaskan nights

Posted: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"It's a celebration of the miracle of lights," Barbara Koval told those who came to her restaurant the first night of Chanukah. For the first time since Koval bought the Naptowne Inn & Caf in Sterling, she decided to share some of the Chanukah joy and traditional foods of the Holiday that she has celebrated since she was a child. "We had free potato latkes with everything on our menu, and Rugula, a traditional sweet pastry, compliments of Jackie one of our wonderful customers. We read the Chanukah story of the oil that lasted eight nights, then lit the Menorah and invited everyone to join in spinning the dreidel." Koval told the Dispatch. One of the best-known symbols of Chanukah is the dreidel. A dreidel is a four sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The four letters are: SHIN, HEY, GIMEL, NUN. These letters mean "A Great Miracle Happened here." Dreidel is also a popular game played during the Holiday. Players use pennies, nuts, raisins, or chocolate coins (gelt) as tokens or chips. The player spins the dreidel. When the Dreidel stops, the letter that is facing up decides the spinner's fate.

The history of Chanukah goes back nearly 2,300 years when the Syrian-Greek leader, Antiochus IV, attempted to force the Jews in Israel to assimilate completely and to renounce their religion and culture. Judah Maccabee led the revolt against the Syrian-Greek army and was victorious, despite the fact that the Jewish army was greatly outnumbered. The Chanukah celebration of lighting the menorah traces its origin to a miracle that occurred after the victory of the Maccabees. The Temple in Jerusalem had been defiled by the invading Syrian-Greek army. It was traditional to light a special lamp in the Temple, called a menorah, with olive oil, but all of the vials of oil were made impure, with the exception of one. According to Chanukah history, the one vial of oil burned for eight days until pure oil could be obtained for the holy Temple. In gratitude, the Jews began lighting small menorahs in their homes to commemorate this miracle. "But the miracle continues today as we share the light of life with our family and friends, it's happening here tonight," added Koval.

On the third night of Chanukah, Jewish families and friends gathered to remember and celebrate at the home of Alison Gottesman. This year a latke cook-off challenge was issued by Ralph Nisenbaum, who recently moved to Alaska. Gary Superman, who has been cooking potato latkes ever since there have been Chanukah celebrations on the Peninsula, stepped up to the challenge and his daughter Sarah created an original non-potato latke for the occasion. In the end, after the Menorahs had been lit and the dreidels spun, Sarah's new recipe was voted the most delicious, but because the traditional Chanukah latke is made with potatoes, Nisenbaum and Superman tied for the title. "It was so delicious!" exclaimed Leonor Fraser, "And it was kind of like playing dreidel, everyone wins because everyone plays."

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