Just after sundown, Rachel Ross sits at the kitchen table in her college apartment with her brother. She lights the fourth candle of the Hanukkiah, and begins a traditional Hebrew blessing.
Rachel Ross is a senior at Abilene Christian University, and a Messianic Jew. Messianic Jews are Christians who honor Jewish Traditions. There is a synagogue in Abilene but no place of worship specifically for Messianic Jews, and since her family lives in Houston, Rachel celebrates Hanukkah quietly in her apartment. Occasionally curious friends drop by to see and hear the unfamiliar holiday traditions.
“Everyone is always interested as to what goes on,” Ross said.
She forgets that many of her peers in West Texas are unfamiliar with Jewish traditions. She’s used to retelling the history of Hanukkah, also known as The Festival of Lights, and explaining its rituals.
“One of the big things about Hanukkah is oil and so you fry things in oil, like latkes,” Ross said.
Latkes are potato pancakes fried in oil, which represents the Hanukkah miracle of a small amount of oil lasting for eight days inside a Jewish Temple after Jews reclaimed that temple from the Greeks.
Ross also grew up making homemade donuts, playing the dreidel game and of course, receiving gifts.
In her home, gifts are spread out over the course of each night. One night is reserved for a large gift and each other night is for a small present.
Rachel joked that one night is a “sock night” with everyone getting a new pair.
“I’m always out of socks, so that is very helpful,” she laughed.
Sometimes they buy presents and donate them or volunteer instead of exchanging gifts at home.
Although giving and receiving presents may be a more contemporary way of celebrating, Ross will continue to celebrate Hanukkah in the way that her family always has. She, her brother, and whoever else is curious enough to join them, will continue to add a candle to the Hanukkiah until Monday night, when the celebration officially ends.