'We were always respectful of our grandparents'
Chanukah: Lights, family, history
Like Christmas, Diwali and other holy festivals celebrated at this dark time of year, Chanukah centres on the symbolism of light.
When the Jews recaptured Jerusalem from Syrian invaders in 161 B.C., they found a menorah, or lamp, in the desecrated temple, with just enough sanctified olive oil to keep it burning one day.
But miraculously, when lit, it burned for eight.
But while Chanukah celebrates that miracle – and the restoration of the temple – Lorne Levy remembers it primarily as a time for families to gather over food to celebrate their common lives as Jews.
"We always visited my grandparents in Windsor [Ont.]," he recalled. "It was great fun to see my cousins, since we were close, almost like brothers and sisters."
Levy grew up in Toronto. He came north as a teacher about 20 years ago, but now serves as an assistant deputy minister with the Department of Community and Government Services.
His grandparents had fled to Canada to escape the racially motivated killing sprees against Jews, called pogroms, in their homeland along the Poland-Russia border. All his family members who stayed behind were killed.
As a child, he had only a dim understanding of what his grandparents had been through. The menorah-lighting ceremony and prayers were solemn occasions, Levy recalled.
"We were always respectful of our grandparents. We knew they loved us and wanted us to understand our history."
Levy also remembers the food: horseradish, pickled beets and dill pickles, all homemade with homegrown produce from his grandmother's garden.
Latkes, or potato pancakes, and kugel, a kind of semi-sweet noodle casserole, were a special treat too – and still are. For meat there was boiled chicken or beef brisket, which is where the horseradish came in – and the hotter the better.
But food and games aside, Levy said, Chanukah "is a reminder of what you do when your back is against the wall. You fight for what's yours – your right to congregate, to have a faith."