How We Celebrate: Hanukkah Traditions with the Sobels

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Lois Sobel and Richard Sobel of Briar Chapel share their Hanukkah traditions with their children and grandkids.

By Anna-Rhesa Versola | Photo by John Michael Simpson

Hanukkah Traditions
Richard Sobel and Lois Sobel (center) with their daughter, Rachel Bearman, her husband, Nathan Bearman (left), and three of their four grandchildren, Noa Bearman, 21, Dov Bearman, 19, and Lev Bearman, 15 (right).

Lois Sobel and Richard Sobel don’t miss the bone-chilling winters of Worcester, Massachusetts, as they enjoy the sunny warmth of their screened-in patio in Briar Chapel. The couple moved to Chapel Hill in 2018 to live closer to their daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren. Lois and Richard also have a son, daughter-in-law and grandson in northern New Jersey who travel down for holidays and special occasions.

The pair say the big move was mostly effortless. “The only difference, I think, between here and up north is that we keep kosher … and finding kosher foods is a little difficult,” Lois says, referring to their Jewish dietary practices. When she needs kosher baking supplies, her son sends her what she needs.

At the conclusion of the High Holiday season, which includes the most important observances in the Jewish calendar, the community looks forward to festive Hanukkah celebrations. The festival of lights begins this year at sundown on Nov. 28 and lasts until sundown on Dec. 6. Small gifts are exchanged while fried foods like potato latkes – Lois’ neighbors look forward to enjoying hers every year – or sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts) are prepared as a reference to the miracle of the oil in the origin story of Hanukkah, a Hebrew word for “dedication.”

Richard explains that in 200 B.C. Syrians tried to enforce their Hellenistic religion upon the Jewish people living in the area known today as Jerusalem. The oppressors were unsuccessful, and after the battle, the desecrated holy temple was cleaned and rededicated to Judaism. Inside the temple, a menorah (lamp) had only enough oil to last a day. However, the lamp burned for eight days. This miracle is the inspiration for Hanukkah and the lighting of eight candles in a modern menorah. Richard and Lois don’t have a large window facing the street to place their menorah, so it will sit on their counter, visible to all who enter.

For the most part, Hanukkah is celebrated in a simple way in the Sobels’ home and focuses most on remembering important values. “A really important part of the Jewish religion is maintaining your faith in the Ten Commandments and abiding by them,” Richard says. “And that teaches your children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren the value of your religion.”

“I think it’s every parent’s wish,” Lois adds, “that [the values] you’ve taught them will be important to them.”

And that also means keeping to the golden rule: “Be kind to one another,” Lois says. “Nobody is the same; … you have to have respect for everybody else. It doesn’t make any difference what religion they have, what skin color they have, everybody’s a human.”

Richard and Lois show their appreciation for their neighbors, friends and family through Lois’ baked gifts.

“Isn’t it amazing though, that when you talk to people of different faiths, holidays revolve around food and family,” Lois says.

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