Jews bring their ‘Festival of Lights’ to Korea
On Tuesday evening at the Israeli embassy residence in Hannam-dong, central Seoul, Yigal Caspi, the ambassador to Seoul, said, “Let’s begin,” as darkness descended outside. Rabbi Abraham Horowitz, wearing a kippah, a skullcap worn by Jewish men, began praying in Hebrew. Almighty God congratulates Hanukkah. Amen.” The rabbi lit a candle-holder with 8 candles, called a hannukkiya. Mr. and Ms. Caspi started singing a Hebrew hymn. The 60 or so guests followed. Hanukkah had begun.
Hanukkah is an eight-day festival beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the year in the Jewish calendar, which usually falls in November and December, commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple. It is also called the “Festival of Lights” because the Jewish people light one candle on the first night and an additional one each succeeding night for eight days. Outside of Israel, 90 percent of Jewish people around the world celebrate Hanukkah rather than Christmas.
According to Mr. Caspi, the celebration dates back to the mid-second century B.C. At that time, Israel was occupied by Greek Syrians who had banned the Jewish religion and desecrated the temple, forcing the people to worship the Greek god Zeus. In 165 B.C., the Jews, led by Judah Maccabee, revolted against the Seleucid Greeks and reclaimed Jerusalem.
The first thing the Jews did was to thank God by lighting the temple in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, there was only one canister of olive oil left, which was enough for one day. The light, however, lasted for eight days, which was considered a miracle. Hanukkah is therefore the eight-day celebration of that miracle. These days, the holiday is celebrated as a festival at the end of the year.
“Although we suffered, we won a victory,” Mr. Caspi said. “Let’s eat, and enjoy the festival,” a maxim that seem to capture Hanukkah’s spirit.
As the legend was related to light and olive oil, the Jews prepare food fried in oil on Hanukkah. Latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jellied doughnuts) are the most famous of Hanukkah foods, said Michal Caspi, the wife of the ambassador.
Alexander Vershbow, the American ambassador to Seoul, and his wife Lisa also joined in the celebration. Although both Mr. and Ms. Vershbow were born in the United States, Mr. Vershbow’s grandfather was a Jewish immigrant from Russia.
“Because we’re Reform Jews, we can’t sing Hebrew hymns very well,” Mr. Vershbow said, “but we also enjoy the holiday by lighting candles at home.”
by Brent Choi