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Hanukkah Still 'Sheds Light' For One Family, Despite Pandemic

The eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins Thursday evening. Also known as the Festival of Lights, it is celebrated by lighting the menorah, singing songs and playing special games, and enjoying foods cooked in oil, like latkes.

Hanukkah marks the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BCE after Judah and the Maccabees defeated and drove out the Greek army. When they went to light the temple's menorah, there was only enough oil for one night. However, the oil miraculously lasted eight days.

In a refrain everyone is likely tired of hearing, Hanukkah will look different this year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

But Ari Cohen, a mother of five, says her family is excited about this holiday season.

"We have eight days to look forward to celebrating together and lighting the menorah and shedding some light into the lives of people we interact with every day," says Cohen.

Cohen says she had no trouble finding the food items she wanted, but she did a lot more gift shopping online than she normally would. Her family enjoys getting together with extended family to celebrate, but that's taking a different form this year.

"My grandparents - my children's great-grandparents - are planning on coming to the driveway and giving gifts to the kids and we'll celebrate with them and I think we'll just try to make it as special as we can in this crazy year."

In this tumultuous year, Cohen adds her family is grateful to celebrate "anything we can that's worth celebrating," even if they can't be together with their community and friends. However, she's choosing to find the bright spots and share kindness with others where possible.

"I think this year more than ever, it's a year of giving back to those less fortunate," she explains. "(Our family) is participating in a lot of community outreach to make sure that people in our city are being fed and getting gifts too. That has been a really important part of this year, especially, to focus on that piece of holiday cheer and giving back."

'Hanukkah' Or 'Chanucah'?

There are many ways to spell "Hanukkah." Hanukkah is the more popular spelling these days, though Chanucah is the more traditional spelling. In Hebrew, Chanucah means "dedication." The different spellings come from transliterating the word from Hebrew, where it starts with the Hebrew letter Chet, which gets a guttural "ch" sound. Chet is often transliterated to H in English.

NPR's Robert Siegel discussed the inconsistencies with Rabbi Daniel Zemel in 2005, when Chanucah still turned up as the more popular spelling in a Google search. It has since been overtaken by Hanukkah. You can listen to their conversation here.

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