The Syrian tyrant Antiochus IV was overthrown 2,154 years ago by a group of Jewish freedom fighters called the Maccabees, who reclaimed the temple in Jerusalem after three years of fighting. After cleansing the temple of idols, the Maccabees found only one cruse of oil remained to light the temple lamp. But when the oil was lit, miraculously the lights burned for eight days.
Judah Maccabee proclaimed that the event be commemorated as a festival, and through the centuries, the eight candles of a menorah have burned beginning on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev. This year that festival, Hanukkah, begins on Dec. 23, when one candle will be lit. On the second night, two candles are lit and so on. In the United States it has become traditional to give Hanukkah gifts or gelt (money).Traditionally, Jewish children play a Hanukkah game with a four-sided top called a dreidel. Each side is marked with the Hebrew letters, nun, gimel, hay and shin, that represent the first letter of the words, "Great miracle happened there."
This Hanukkah season, another "great miracle" happened - but this time the "there" was not Israel but the communist East bloc countries. The light of freedom is beginning to shine for a people long forbidden to practice their religion. Hundreds of thousands of Jews are preparing to leave the Soviet Union. It is estimated that 80,000 Russian Jews will emigrate to the United States in 1990.
Former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky said recently, "We are now facing the biggest exodus of Jews in modern history, maybe since (the Jews) left Spain," referring to the Spanish Inquisition of 1492.
Salt Lake City is now home to approximately a dozen new Russian families. Some are being assisted by the Jewish Community Center and others are sponsored by the Tolstoi Foundation.
On Wednesday, Dec. 20, a Hanukkah party for Salt Lake's Russian community will begin at 7:30 at the James L. White Jewish Community Center. "We'll be giving out presents to the children and a turkey to each family," said director Eve Bier. Hanukkah songs will be taught, and the children will play with dreidels. "This will be a first for some of them," Bier noted.
The older, established Russian families will meet the new immigrants. "They've been so busy trying to assimilate and adapt to their new country, this will give them a chance to meet our new families," Bier said. "This is a community gift to them all."
The foods of Hanukkah send tempting aromas wafting from kitchens. Potato latkes (pancakes) and doughnuts are eaten because they are fried in oil and are symbolic of the festival.
The new immigrants will prepare their traditional desserts for this holiday. A wonderful poppy seed pirog, a honey nut cake and meringue topped cake are recipes brought to the United States and shared with Deseret News readers.
Some 60 percent of immigrants from the Soviet Union have college degrees. Larisa Baumberg is a graphic designer and artist who graduated from the Georgian Academy of Arts. She was born in Tblissi, Soviet Georgia, and has been in the United States for 7 1/2 years. Galina Bulat, who has a civil engineering degree, left Lenigrad about three months ago, and Larisa Sassoon emigrated from Minsk nine years ago and has a finance degree.
Sassoon is pleased with the effects of glasnost. "Very few were getting out after 1981. It was all uncertainty. Now everything is changed _ it's policy," she said. Baumberg explained what it was like growing up under a communist system. "It's a different society. It's a communist atmosphere _ you learn Lenin and Marx. You're being hammered all the time, `there is no God' . . . from a young age, it's what is stressed," she said. Baumberg's grandfather was a cantor; her husband's grandfather was a rabbi. "But probably over the years, it just faded. I would go to synagogue, but it was more social. If I would go into a church, I would go to see the beauty of the church and to hear the music," she said.
"People get disillusioned in the system, and they turn to religion," said Baumberg. "Instead of this glorious revolution, they discover there's no ground under their feet," Sassoon remarked.
"People need to believe in something," Baumberg said.