Hanukkah creates memories, whole ‘latke’ fun

Students reflect on their Jewish faith and how they bond with their families by engaging in traditional Hanukkah practices this year on December 18-26.


Photo by Jillian Photography

“Mazel tov!”…showing his commitment, senior Jared Archer completed his Bar Mitzvah at age 13 surrounded by friends and family.

By creating their own twist on Hanukkah traditions, Jewish families in the community are able to celebrate their faith in unique ways and express what Hanukkah means to them.
Starting from a young age, Hanukkah was a means for spending time with loved ones for many Jewish students.
For senior Jared Archer, his early childhood Hanukkah memories include singing.
“We all gathered by the fireplace and open[ed] up presents while singing some songs in Hebrew and that was just a really good time and very special,” Archer said.
Other Jewish customs include wearing yamakas, reciting prayers and hanging mezuzahs above beds or door frames for good luck.
“I’m really glad to be raised Jewish because you don’t really see as many Jewish people,” Archer said. “That’s definitely a nice and unique feeling, knowing that I’m Jewish and I’m proud of that.”
According to sophomore Chaya Thomas, when she thinks of Judaism she thinks about the culture, lifestyle and morals within the religion.
“Judaism is a religion that originated in [the Middle East,] and there’s a lot of references similar to the Bible, but the main thing we study is the Torah. Some big morals of Judaism are volunteering in the community and helping others,” Thomas said.
One classic tradition that Thomas participates in is eating latkes. The cultural food symbolizes the story of Hanukkah.
“Latkes are a potato pancake, fried in oil and that symbolizes the oil that was found in the temple that burned for eight nights on Hanukkah,” Thomas said.
To form a deeper connection with her religion, Thomas traveled to Israel with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
“It was a kind of trip to get cultural experiences and immerse yourself in the Jewish homeland and it was definitely very interesting to get another perspective of Jewish life,” Thomas said.
In Israel, Thomas was able to connect to Jewish people on a deeper degree.
“I felt like when I was in Israel, I was connecting with people on a deeper level. That was one thing that we already had in common,” Thomas said.
Thomas was very “interested” to see all the different kinds of Judaism.
“There is conservative, reformed orthodox and ultra-orthodox and they all have a different way of living and then I also got to see a bunch of different historical landmarks,” Thomas said.
Junior Hailey Riexinger is inspired by her mom’s efforts to further her Jewish education. While Riexinger’s father is not Jewish, the religion her mom and sister share is fully embraced.
“My mom formed a Hebrew school group to help us further our education as Jewish children when our synagogue closed down. Altogether, it was a really amazing experience [that] I’m very thankful to have had,” Riexinger said. “Religion was never pressed on me, but it was something that I learned to appreciate by myself.”
When Riexinger’s mom was not able to be home, her father stepped in.
“My mom would work during the nights to bring in extra income so she would be away on Hanukkah evenings when we would do the prayers. My dad, who is not Jewish, would have us light the candles and do the prayers and he would record it and send it to my mom,” Riexinger said.