American Hanukkah traditions focus on children

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Hanukkah isn't a hugely important holiday on the Jewish calendar, but modern day celebrations of the Festival of Lights do work to get today's children--and adults--excited about Judaism, according to Dianne Ashton, a professor of religion studies at Rowan University.

Hanukkah isn't a hugely important holiday on the Jewish calendar, but modern day celebrations of the Festival of Lights do work to get today's children--and adults--excited about Judaism, according to Dianne Ashton, a professor of religion studies at Rowan University.

Author of a book on Hanukkah in America to be released next year by New York University Press, Ashton says two Cincinnati rabbis led a movement to "Americanize" Judaism in the 1860s. That movement included promoting the idea of a fun holiday festival for Jewish children.

"One of the rabbis said Jewish children shall have a grand and glorious Hanukkah, a festival as nice as any Christmas, with songs, dramatics, candle lighting, ice cream and candy," says Ashton, whose book examines Hanukkah from 1860-2000.

"This really shifted Hanukkah from primarily an observance of Jewish adults to a festival seen as particularly important for Jewish children, a way to keep them interested in Judaism."

Hanukkah is an eight-day commemoration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after eh successful Maccabean Revolt.

Reach Dr. Ashton at ashtond@rowan.edu.

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