In Cape Town this year we will celebrate Chanukah by lighting candles and enjoying potato latkes.
However, back in 164 BCE when the Maccabees cleansed the temple, there were neither candles nor potatoes. Candles came into use in Europe in the 17th Century and potatoes first arrived from America in 1588. The Books of the Maccabees don’t mention lighting chanukiyot either. Josephus did not call it `Chanukah’ but the `Festival of Lights’, explaining that the right to serve Hashem had come like a sudden light. It was only in a discussion between Hillel and Shammai that lighting a Chanukiah is mentioned.
Today the Cape Board has 12 chanukiyot in its collection on display in the Samson Centre, coming from Jerusalem, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Holland, North Africa, Poland and Russia. The oldest is a limestone oil Chanukiah from Jerusalem dated to the 10th or 12th century. We have a brass North African one from the 17-19th century and another given to Morris Alexander, the founder of the Board, by Rev Hechler, Herzl’s most famous Christian disciple, whom Alexander had met at the 1907 World Zionist Conference.
Seven came from the US Army as part of the Jewish Reconstruction Programme, having been looted by the Nazis from synagogues and private homes. None are complete as they were only valued for their silver content and were thrown by the Nazis higgledy-piggledy into boxes to be shipped to ‘neutral’ Switzerland to be melted down into coins for the Reich. One, the top of a monumental Chanukiah, has been matched to a single large candlestick — its mate is lost, as is the base of the Chanukiah. This is borrowed each year by Beit Midrash Morasha where Auschwitz survivor Ella Blumenthal lights it — using it for the purpose for which it was intended.
As for the festival of lights, let us recall that the role of the Jews is to be an Or l’Goyim, a light unto the nations. In a world filled with hate for the other, the Cape Council will continue to raise our communities’ voice to defend the rights of those facing hate and oppression.
We will continue to speak out against antisemitism, homophobia, xenophobia and Islamophobia when this scourge is voiced. This year as you light your Chanukiah remember to celebrate with gladness, but remember also those who have no light or gladness, no money or food and spread your light to others where you can.
To read the editor’s column for December/January click here
To read or download the December/January issue of the Chronicle in PDF click here
To read the most read article of the November issue, click here
Portal to the Jewish Community: to see a list of all the Jewish organisations in Cape Town with links to their websites, click here
Featured organisation of the month: The Jewish Community Services’ (JCS) activities are centered on relief for the poor and distressed in the Jewish community. They provide a full range of preventative, educative and supportive counselling, statutory services as well as material relief. Visit http://www.jcs.org.za for more.