Like many folks, I decided to spit into a vial and submit my sample for an ancestry DNA. After 6-8 weeks, my results came back with the expected British, Irish, German, and then…whoop….Ashkenazi Jewish…? As far as I was told, my relatives were devoted Catholics. The timeline for my ancestry said that my Jewish relative(s) were born sometime between 1870 and 1930, was 100% Jewish, and was likely a parent, grandparent, or great grandparent. My father reported the Irish/British side as belonging to him (one relative signed the Declaration of Independence), and my mother claimed the German side. But neither had any idea about the Jewish side. Until their tests come back, (sometime in early 2018), I’m in the dark. So, I decided to light some candles and celebrate my first Hanukkah.
My dear friend, Cami, dropped off a gorgeous menorah (a nine-branched candelabrum) for me to use, along with a packet of Hanukkah prayers, a dreidel (a spinning top) and an explanation of the history behind the celebration. I learned that after the army of Greek Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple in Jerusalem, the Maccabees discovered that almost all of their ritual olive oil had been desecrated. They found only a single container that was still sealed by the High Priest, with enough oil in it to keep the menorah in the Temple lit for a single day. They used this, yet the oil ended up burning for eight days (the time it took to have new oil pressed and made ready.) During this time, the Maccabean Jews regained control of Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple. The Hebrew word for “dedication” is Hanukkah. Since they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, they decreed a festival to last for eight days every year, to celebrate the restoration of their Temple worship, and today we refer to this as Hanukkah, or the “Festival Of Lights.”
The food that is served at a Hanukkah dinner is supposed to be high in oil to symbolize the oil from the menorah which lasted eight days. My daughter requested potato latkes (shredded potatoes and onions which are mixed with flour and then pan-fried in oil) served with apple sauce and creme fraiche. For the main entree, we decided to make a beef brisket. Sides included green beans sauteed in oil, rye bread, and chicken liver spread.
We tried to say the Hebrew prayers (our accents were horrendous), we sang the Hanukkah song (London and I remembered all the lyrics from our elementary school days), and we lit the candles from left to right (but apparently we weren’t supposed to have ALL the candles in the menorah even though we weren’t lighting them, and we were supposed to take turns, and say the prayer AS we were lighting the candles, etc etc…). It’s a learning process. After my daughter posted a video of us online doing our celebration, we got lots of good advice, or should I say “suggestions” for next time? We even got an invitation from friends to join them next year. I think learning from experienced friends is the way to go!
So, how do I feel about being 22.4% Jewish? I feel fantastic! It’s provided for me a whole new culture to explore. It gives new meaning to sites and stories I heard on my trip to Israel last year. I can’t wait to dig deeper into my ancestral branches and discover where the path leads. I have a feeling that one of my relatives was forced to change religions…. and I wonder what the story was.