For Agoura Hills resident Sharleen Bergman, Hanukkah means home cooking.
Making huge pots of sweet and sour cabbage soup and matzo ball soup for her family has become an annual tradition for the grandmother of 10 who worships at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks.
She serves the soups with latkes, a Hanukkah staple. The potato pancakes are traditionally eaten with applesauce and sour cream.
But Bergman said the Jewish Festival of Lights isn’t just about food. Even more, it’s about family.
“We all get together,” she said. “That’s my favorite part.”
The eight-day holiday—beginning this year at sundown Tues., Dec. 12—celebrates the rededication of the of the temple in Jerusalem, the holiest place for Jews in ancient times.
The temple had been desecrated and Judaism abolished by followers of the tyrant Antiochus, but a resistance movement led by Judah Maccabee developed, and his outnumbered army of Jewish soldiers defeated the oppressors.
Once they reclaimed the sacred site, the Maccabees cleansed and rededicated the temple but found only enough ceremonial oil to relight the temple’s eternal flame for one night. A messenger was sent to secure additional oil, and miraculously, the oil continued to burn for eight days, until his return.
Hanukkah, which commemorates that miracle, is observed by lighting candles on a menorah. The menorah holds nine candles, one for each day the oil burned plus an extra one, known as the shamash, which is used to light the other candles while reciting a prayer in Hebrew.
“It’s the helper candle,” Bergman said.
Rabbi Schneur Schneerson of Chabad of Newbury Park said the menorah takes on extra significance in the United States because the nation is founded on freedom of worship.
“The menorah serves as a symbol of dedication to preserve and encourage the right and liberty of all its citizens to worship God freely, openly and with pride,” he said.
Jews welcome the community to take part in the Hanukkah festivities, which are happening in every corner of the Conejo Valley.
Chabad of Newbury Park will host a Fire on Ice celebration at 5 p.m. Tues., Dec. 12 at The Village shopping center, 350 Via Las Brisas, Newbury Park. The free event has a 6-foot menorah carved from ice as well as children’s activities, musical performances and an illusionist.
Temple Adat Elohim at 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks, will hold a special Shabbat service at 6:30 p.m. Fri., Dec. 15, followed by a “Hanukkah Happy Hour” with latkes, libations and holiday treats. Reservations are required for the $5 happy hour.
Temple Etz Chaim will light a giant menorah during a public ceremony from 6 to 8 p.m. Tues., Dec. 12 at Janss Marketplace.
Chabad of the Conejo will kindle a menorah and host music, a circus act and a juggler at 5 p.m. Sun., Dec. 17 at The Shoppes at Westlake Village, 30770 Russell Ranch Road.
Temple Ner Simcha will have a Latke Launch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sun., Dec. 17 at Triunfo Canyon Park, 980 Aranmoor Ave., Thousand Oaks.
The event is a fundraiser for the Agoura Hills temple, which does not charge for membership. Ticket purchasers will be entered in a drawing for Lakers tickets, a ride-along in a police helicopter and other prizes. To buy the $20 tickets, go to nersimcha.org.