MANATEE — The Jewish Festival of Lights, also known as Hanukkah, began at sundown Friday this year and continues for eight days.
The celebration has a special meaning for Lois Gerber, co-founder of Bradenton Preparatory Academy, which she started with her late husband, Dr. Murray Gerber, in 1975.
Gerber, who attended Christian churches early in life, converted to Judaism when she was 33, after 11 years of marriage to Gerber, who was Jewish from birth. Her daughters, Susan and Diane, had converted before her. But when she was ready, and not a moment before, she went into it full force, she said.
“Hanukkah exemplifies the fight of normal, everyday people to restore what was important,” Gerber said. “I hitch up to Hanukkah because I had been fighting all my life to find something important to me.”
Gerber is president of Temple Beth El, Bradenton’s first Jewish congregation.
Hanukkah is a time of year when Jews remember the small band of Jewish freedom fighters known as the Maccabees, who may have saved the Jewish religion, Gerber said.
In the 2nd Century BCE, the Maccabees pushed the Syrian invaders out of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and reversed its defiled state.
When the Jews dedicated the temple, there was little oil remaining to light the menorah, but it miraculously lasted eight days. Today’s Hanukkah celebration lasts eight days, with one candle being lighted each day to commemorate that miracle.
Hanukkah will be celebrated at many events in Manatee and Sarasota over the coming days.
Three congregations are hosting the lighting of Hanukkah candles to honor the Maccabees’ miracle.
Temple Beth El is lighting a large menorah in downtown Bradenton at 7 p.m. Sunday on the lawn in front of The Manatee Players theater at 102 Old Main St.
“We believe it could be the first ever downtown public Hanukkah lighting,” said Rabbi Harold Caminker of Temple Beth El.
Chabad of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch is hosting its Sixth Annual Hanukkah on Main Street Celebration at 6 p.m. Thursday in Lakewood Ranch.
“The message of Hanukkah is to bring light into this world,” said Chabad of Bradenton Rabbi Mendy Bukiet. “It’s a universal message. It teaches us we all have to bring light. Even the smallest candles can bring great light. Each deed we do can make the world a better place.”
Congregation Ner Tamid will light hundreds of Hanukkah candles on dozens of members’ and friends’ menorahs at 6 p.m. Friday at 3817 40th Ave. W. in the Lakeside South Clubhouse.
“I was stationed in Germany with the Air Force and found it in a second-hand store,” Ner Tamid member Miriam Goolsby said of a menorah she will bring. “I’ve used it for years and every Hanukkah I think about the family that once owned it and wonder what became of them, if they died in the Holocaust. I light the candles in their honor.”