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Happy First Night of Hanukkah from SDOT, and a Roadside Chat with Ben Dalgetty

Menorah. Photo Credit: Benigno Hoyuela, Unsplash.

We had a Roadside Chat with Ben Dalgetty, SDOT’s Digital Strategist, who shared his written reflections on the holiday through this blog.  

Ben identifies as secular/reform Jewish. This piece is intended as a personal reflection, and while every effort was made towards accuracy, this blog does not represent official department position or definitive history. 

Ben, as you celebrate Hanukkah this year, what is going through your mind? 

Today marks the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights which lasts eight days.  

In a year that has seen many more than eight crazy nights, this year’s celebration is a cause for reflection on where we’ve been and gratitude for what we have. For me, along with people of all faiths and backgrounds in our city, this unique and socially-distanced holiday season will be unlike any other – hopefully. 

The story of Hanukkah starts in the second century B.C., with the Jewish people in Jerusalem under the rule of the Seleucids who tried to forcibly impose a Greek culture and religion. The Jews, led by a group that became known as the Maccabees, successfully rebelled and reclaimed their land and the Second Temple. To cleanse and rededicate their temple (the word Chanukah means “dedication” in Hebrew), they needed to light the menorah inside for eight days.  

As the story goes, though there was only one day worth of oil, the menorah miraculously burned for the full eight days until more oil could arrive. To celebrate the oil lasting for eight days, Hanukkah was born. 

Although not one of the High Holy days that are the most religiously significant, Hanukkah is now the most widely known Jewish holiday after it rose to prominence in modern North America as the Jewish alternative to Christmas. The exact traditions vary, but can include lighting and blessing a menorah, eating foods fried in oil like latkes (potato pancakes), playing dreidel games, telling the story of Hanukkah, and exchanging gifts.  

How have you thought about your Jewish identity this year? 

My conception of Judaism is rooted in movement and transportation.  No, Moses didn’t have an ORCA card or a fixed gear bicycle, but according to tradition he did move an entire people through the desert to their promised land. But even once there, the Jewish people kept moving, often against their will and by force as part of the Jewish diaspora. For my family, Ashkenazi Jews in eastern Europe, the early 20th century meant fleeing Russian imperial pogroms to land in Canada and eventually the U.S. Tragically, six million Jews in Europe would then be brutally murdered in the Holocaust, alongside over 11 million others killed by the Nazi regime.  

I was raised in a secular Jewish household, and while we celebrated Hanukkah, the traditions didn’t resonate strongly, and I never kept them up as an adult. But, after the past few years of unprecedented (in my lifetime) anti-Semitic hate speechharassment, and mass murder, this year I’ll proudly be lighting my own menorah and placing it in the window

This holiday season, stay safe, stay healthy, and have a happy Hanukkah!