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From tradition to trivia, area Jews prepare for Hanukkah

| Monday, Dec. 6, 2004

America's 5.5 million Jews will mark the beginning of Hanukkah at sunset Tuesday under increasing pressure to commercialize what they consider to be a minor holiday that just happens to fall near Christmas.

Retail stores across the country are hawking Hanukkah merchandise ranging from the Hanukkah Trivia Game, at $5.39, to the Little Hanukkah Play Set, at $24.99. The "Hanukkah and All That Jazz" CD sells for $14.99 on one Internet Web site devoted to Hanukkah merchandise.

Even Disney is offering Mickey Mouse dreidels -- a four-sided top used for a Hanukkah game.

Richard Dunhoff, president of Congregation Emanu-El Israel in Greensburg, said the commercializing of Hanukkah is a concern.

"We worry about that, of course. The children see what's going on out there via television," he said. "We don't want to overplay it."

Still, Hanukkah has become "one of the big events" on the Jewish calendar and now includes much more "trendy stuff" for gifts, Dunhoff said.

Janet Radman, a member of Beth Israel Congregation in Latrobe, blames it all on television.

"When I was a kid, I got a dime. We just didn't do it," she said of Hanukkah gifts.

Once television made its way into America's living rooms, Hanukkah was thrust into the Christmas season of gift-giving. Radman concedes that she's become a Hanukkah shopper for her children and grandchildren.

"I've been there," she said with a chuckle.

The eight-day Hanukkah holiday celebrates the victory of the Maccabees, or Hasmoneans, over the Hellenistic Assyrians, who ruled the land of Israel and had turned the sacred temple in Jerusalem into a pagan sanctuary. The Maccabees defeated the Hellenistic Assyrians in 165 B.C., took repossession of the temple and rededicated it.

The word hanukkah means dedication.

Today, Jews celebrate the holiday by lighting a menorah, a nine-branched candelabra, adding one light each night.

Members of Congregation Emanu-El Israel will be observing Hanukkah primarily in their homes, said Rabbi Sara Rae Perman. A giant menorah in front of the synagogue will be lit each night.

The congregation will have its annual Hanukkah dinner on Friday. For additional information, call the synagogue at 724-834-0560.

The Westmoreland Jewish Community Council of the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh will celebrate Hanukkah with a luncheon for those older than 50 at noon Wednesday. Reservations can be made by calling 724-836-0508.

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