SARASOTA -- Eleanor Wachs grew up in a secular Jewish home in a very Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y.
All of her schoolmates would celebrate Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays, but Wachs' home was absent of any traditional signs of religion -- no mezuzah on the door post, no candlesticks for Shabbat and, obviously, no menorah on Hanukkah.
But the young Wachs knew about all the Jewish holy days and rituals just from living in the community, and she wanted to take part in those traditions.
This was the memory Wachs wrote for the "Our Jewish Stories" project of Temple Emanu-el, as Hanukkah starts at sunset Tuesday.
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One Hanukkah season, Wachs wanted a menorah and the one she wanted was displayed in the Barton's Candy Shoppe window.
Wachs feared asking her mother to buy the decorative nine-branched candelabrum used to hold the Hanukkah candles.
But on one visit to the candy store with her mother, she mustered up the courage to ask, and to her surprise, her mother said yes.
"I still have that menorah," Wachs said.
Wachs' story was one of about two dozen collected in which Temple Emanu-el members share experiences that helped shape their identity as a Jew.
A professor in folklore and writing at Ringling College of Art and Design, Wachs had written articles and narratives of personal experiences of others.
"But I never wrote about myself," she said.
In putting her story down on paper for the project, Wachs said she found it a "comfortable place to express one's Judaism."
"This is just another outlet to express ones feelings toward your religion," she said.
Hanukkah, also known as The Festival of Lights, was started by Judah Maccabee in 165 B.C. after the retaking of the Second Temple in Jerusalem from an invading Greek king.
During the rededication of the restored temple, a lamp was to be lit each night for eight nights.
There was only enough oil for the lamp to last one day, but in what was called a miracle, the lamp burned for the whole eight nights.
Since then the miracle has been celebrated with the lighting of a candle on a menorah each night.
Although several of the stories written for the Temple Emanu-el project mentioned Hanukkah, others touched on attending Jewish camp, life in the military and the harrowing experiences of Holocaust survivors.
Temple member Bruce Black conceived the project after arriving in Florida and presented it to the temple leadership.
"I was sitting in temple during service and looked around the room and didn't know anybody," said Black, who moved to Palm Aire with his wife and daughter from Philadelphia about 11 years ago.
After services he would greet his fellow worshippers.
"But I didn't feel we got past where we were from," said Black, who is a published author.
"Imagine sitting in a pew and seeing people along side or behind or in front of you," he said. "Then visualize a balloon, like in a comic strip, over their heads, but it was empty.
"So you ask them to fill it up," Black said.
Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, who with her husband, Rabbi Brenner Glickman, leads the Temple Emanu-el congregation, said this project is an extension of the Jewish community tradition of handing down stories from one generation to the next.
"Over the centuries, our stories have been handed down orally," Elaine Glickman said. "Bruce just facilitated the storytelling in our community."
Hanukkah was one example of stories told to successional generations over the centuries to express Jewish identity, the rabbi said.
"Hanukkah means dedication," Glickman said. "We not only celebrate the Festival of Lights, but faith and belief."
During the temple youth educational program Sunday, Adam Caldwell, an 11th-grader at Lakewood Ranch High School, dressed as Judah Maccabee and told the story of the miracle oil lasting eight days to the kindergarten to third-graders.
"It's a story of God's deliverance," Glickman said.
And that story of deliverance has been told over the generations, from the exodus from Egypt to overcoming the horrors of the Holocaust.
To read the stories, go to the web site at ourjewishstories.wordpress.com.