DAVENPORT -- As many NorthPark Mall shoppers Sunday surely had Christmas on their minds, a small band of Chabad Lubavitch Jews presented the key traditions and meaning of Hanukkah, the eight-day festival being celebrated this week.
Hanukkah represents two miracles in Judaism, explained Shmuel Benshimon, a Chabad teacher from Postville, Iowa. The first was that Jews in second century B.C. were able to defeat a Greek army that far outnumbered them.
"They were so much more, in quantity and quality -- they were much greater than the Jews," Mr. Benshimon said. "The Jews had to have big help from above to win the war. This was one miracle -- that Jews won."
The second, more familiar, miracle is that after the Greeks destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem, including the olive oil, the Jewish Maccabees found a room with pure oil that would light a menorah for one day, but it lasted for eight days, enabling them to find a new supply.
Hanukkah, which means "dedication" in Hebrew, begins on the 25th of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar and usually falls in late November or December, and is held for eight days to commemorate the original oil. Mr. Benshimon -- with two young Jewish boys as helpers -- demonstrated an olive-oil press, in which olives were crushed to produce juice; the juice was put into tubes and spun in a machine, and drops of oil rose to the top.
Though ancient Jews could have used any oil to light the menorah's candles, they wanted to use the pure, untouched oil, because it was the best possible, he said. "That is a very big lesson for us -- when you have a choice of doing something better, go out of your way; then God will go out of His way."
Educating non-Jews about Judaism and offering examples on how to do good deeds are goals of the Chabad Lubavitch, a 200-year-old outreach organization, said Rabbi Shneur Cadaner, director of the Davenport-based Quad-Cities chapter.
"We're trying to get people to ignite the candle that burns within every single soul," he said during the presentation (held appropriately outside the Yankee Candle store). "Every single person wants to be connected, wants to be good. How does one start, begin to go that path?"
The importance of Hanukkah -- which is a lesser holiday in the Jewish tradition -- is that people must "know it was not just a great miracle then," Rabbi Cadaner said of 23 centuries ago. "Miracles are happening every single day. God does perform miracles, and people should constantly do the right thing. The idea of Hanukkah lights is to share the light. When something good works for you, share it with others, and set off a chain reaction."
Often called the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is celebrated with the daily lighting of the menorah, traditional foods (such as potato pancakes and doughnuts, fried in oil), games and gifts. Sunday was the second night of this year's festival, and the Chabad lit its large electric menorah inside the mall. They also provided colorful toy dreidels, paper dreidels to color and silver-wrapped gelt, or chocolate coins.
While the Chabad has offered public Hanukkah programs in the past (such as at the Figge Art Museum and its center at 1880 E. 54th St., Davenport), this was its first time at NorthPark, and the first time doing the olive-oil press.
"I had no idea how olive oil is made. It's a neat thing for them to do," said Steve Garrington, of Davenport, a Christian who has visited Israel twice with his wife, Linda. "It's good to learn about all cultures, especially a culture that is so much in the news," he said.
"We have a common heritage," Mrs. Garrington said. "We shouldn't be afraid of each other."
"Jerusalem is the land of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Jesus. Jesus was Jewish," Mr. Garrington said. "If you're Christian, all this is part of your heritage." Learning about other cultures also builds tolerance and appreciation of people who are different than you, he added.
"We want to get people to feel that Judaism can be a lot of fun. It's not necessarily a burden," said Rabbi Cadaner, noting the Chabad (which has a mailing list of 1,000 in the region) publicly display four large menorahs in the area during the holiday season.
"They do such a wonderful job," said Amy Schwartz, of Davenport, who is active in Chabad. "The extraordinary inventiveness and quality of Chabad contributes to our community."
Like any religious holiday, it's crucial to celebrate Hanukkah because "when you retell the story, generation to generation, it maintains the important traditions of our faith and customs," she said. "Chabad brings such a wonderful Jewish experience to this community, and it is treasured and cherished."
Hanukkah Festival is Tuesday
Chabad Lubavitch of the Quad-Cities will hold its eighth annual Hanukkah Festival on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., at the Chabad center, 1880 E. 54th St., Davenport.
For a suggested donation of $8 for adults and $5 for children, you can enjoy a performance by Chabad Hebrew School students, a light buffet dinner, dreidels (spinning tops), hot latkes (potato pancakes), doughnuts, crafts and children's activities.
The festival also features the Quad-Cities' first edible doughnut menorah. Previous events have included menorahs made from wood, LEGOs, chocolate, and clay dreidels, said Rabbi Shneur Cadaner. Doughnuts are important to Hanukkah because they are among foods made in oil (which the eight-day festival celebrates).
For more information, call (563) 355-1065 or visit JewishQuadCities.com.
Today is Tuesday, Dec. 10, the 344th day of 2013. There are 21 days left in the year. 1863 -- 150 years ago: We give "the government" the benefit of our circulation free of charge, for two advertisements for mules, horses and forage. 1888 -- 125 years ago: The official board of the First Methodist Church voted to build a new church. 1913 -- 100 years ago: W.A. Reid was elected commander of Siboney Bay Camp No. 8, United Spanish War Veterans. 1938 -- 75 years ago: Mrs. Blanche S. Osborne, of Rock Island, is the only woman in the city who is a member of the American Legion. 1963 -- 50 years ago: The Rocket Barbershop Chorus, under the direction of Howard Mesecher, will present a concert of barbershop songs at the December meeting of the Woman's Club of Moline at 2 Saturday afternoon in Scottish Rite Cathedral. 1988 -- 25 years ago: Helen A. Stone, of Moline, traded her organ's bench for a seat in the pew when she retired as church organist of Union Congregational Church, Moline, recently. She's been playing either piano or organ for the church for 61 years.