Peoria Jewish community celebrates Hanukkah

Published: Dec. 20, 2022 at 4:14 PM CST
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - The Peoria Jewish Community is celebrating Hanukkah with all the usual traditions centered around time with family, from enjoying fried foods to lighting the eight candles commemorating religious freedom.

But, there’s another unwelcome guest that’s been rearing its ugly head for “thousands” of years, according to Jewish Federation of Peoria Executive Director Susan Katz. Antisemitism has always been around, but recent national headlines have put it in the spotlight once more. Katz said it’s a reminder that the discrimination and danger are never really gone.

“It’s very concerning and it should concern all of us,” Katz said. “The Jews in this country are less the 2% of the population and we are the victims of around 60% of the hate crimes.”

“We’re certainly getting a lot of government support but antisemitism is out there.”

She said her family has always felt safe in the Peoria community. The Federation works to build relationships with other religious groups and communities, according to Katz. Education is an important part of their work. The group brought the Peoria Holocaust Memorial to the Peoria Riverfront Museum in 2017.

“The way to combat hate is to educate and to get to know people, and that we’re all people,” Katz said. “Once you know somebody as an individual, you’re not going to be afraid of what they might practice and believe.”

Despite the looming cloud of antisemitism, there are still plenty of traditions Katz is looking forward to. The Federation typically puts on parties and large gatherings for Hanukkah, but those have taken a back seat due to COVID-19.

Latkes, fried potato pancakes, are a classic Hanukkah food. Every night, families with Menorahs light a candle to commemorate the Maccabees’ fight for religious freedom. Each temple had a lamp that was meant to stay constantly lit. The light in their temple was set to burn out and only had enough oil left for one more day. The group sent someone out to get more oil, and legend says the lamp stayed lit for eight days until more oil was brought.

Though it coincides with Christmas, Hanukkah is not the largely important holiday that Christmas to Christian or American culture. Katz said holidays like Passover and Rosh Hashanah are the major religious holidays, and where most of her childhood memories are from growing up Jewish.

The commercialization and popularity of Christmas have boosted Hanukkah’s visibility, but it has also introduced commercialism to the holiday. Some children get presents for Hanukkah, something that didn’t happen in previous generations, according to Katz.

Hanukkah ends Dec. 26.