Marking the end of a year and the beginning of another comes with a variety of traditions. For the members of the Briat Elohim Jewish Congregation of the Kenai Peninsula, that means lighting dozens of candles to signify the eight days of Hanukkah.
The Jewish holiday, which began Dec. 24 and ended Saturday night, signifies the victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the Syrians for Jerusalem and the rededication of the temple there. Jewish congregations around the world light candles, exchange gifts, spin tops called dreidels and eat fried foods to celebrate the event.
The Briat Elohim congregation gathered in a member’s home to light the candles, sing and make latkes, or fried potato pancakes on Friday night, the second-to-last night of Hanukkah in 2016. Each family brought their own menorahs to the celebration. This resulted in a variety ranging from traditional brass menorahs featuring the Star of David to children’s menorahs painted with the figures of musicians or carved into the animals of Noah’s ark.
The group, which celebrated its first Hanukkah in 1983, was missing a longtime member: co-founder Gary Superman of Nikiski. Superman died Nov. 27, 2016. Paula Bute, who co-founded the congregation with Superman when she met him in the early 1980s, said he was missed Friday night.
“Gary was the latke maker,” she said. “He cooked the potato latkes for every community Hanukkah gathering over many, many years. He was sorely, sorely missed.”
However, his children stepped up to fill the role, which Bute said was important to the congregation. His son Levi Superman and daughters Amy and Sarah Superman filled in as the latke makers at the gathering Friday night. Bute said she and Gary Superman were proud that their children stepped up and took over leadership roles in the congregation.
“They took over the job of making the latkes, which was very important to us,” she said.
Fried foods are an important part of the celebration. In the history of Hanukkah, after the Maccabees retook the temple, they recrafted the menorah — a type of candelabra — that the Syrians had stolen and went to light it to purify the temple. However, there was only enough oil to burn for one night, but the oil lasted for eight days.
Different Jewish cultures have different food staples — in Israel, the typical treat on Hanukkah is a jam-filled donut called a sufganiyot. Latkes are common among Eastern European Jewish cultures.
“It’s all about the oil,” Bute said.
Her daughter, Alana Martin, is the president of the congregation, said the Hanukkah party was the first time the congregation had gotten together since Gary Superman had died — the congregation gets all together about once per month, she said. The Hanukkah celebration usually draws a lot of people and is a lively time, she said.
For bigger events, the group uses one of the members’ homes, but it does own a piece of land and a building near Soldotna. It’s a dry cabin that uses a generator for electricity, but the congregation hopes to expand it in the future, Martin said.
“It’s great, and we love it, and it’s ours,” she said. “We’re just a very small congregation and the goal is to make the building a usable building for us year round.”
Levi Superman, who is also the secretary for the congregation, said the celebration Friday night felt much like the ones he remembered growing up.
“In the early ‘80s there was even less of a Jewish population on the peninsula, so it’s always been a tight-knit community,” he said.
More information about the Briat Elohim Jewish Congregation of the Kenai Peninsula can be found on its Facebook page.