City Faith – Hanukkah Evening, Paharganj
The Jewish festival of lights.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
27 December, Tuesday, 7 pm. It was the final evening of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BC. The Delhi Walla was in a Chabad House, a Jewish community center run by an orthodox Jewish organisation based in Brooklyn, US.
There are thousands of Chabad Houses in the world. In the capital, it is in Paharganj, a hotel district popular among the Israeli backpackers, and in Vasant Vihar, a residential neighbourhood dominated by foreign diplomats.
To travelling Jews, a Chabad House is a home away from home. The rabbi (priest) and rebbetzin (priest’s wife) host religious festivals and Sabbath (Saturday) meals for both practicing and secular Jews. A Chabad House serves as a synagogue, the Jewish house for prayer. It offers classes in Torah, the first five books of the Bible that were revealed by God to Prophet Moses. It is also a community kitchen for Jews, especially Israeli tourists, feeling homesick for dishes like hummus, thina and Israeli salad.
After about 10 people had gathered on the first floor of the Chabad House, a young man from Paris was awarded the honor to light the menorah, the nine-branched candle stand. On the first night of Hanukkah one candle is lit on the right side of the menorah. The following night a second candle is lit to the left of the first candle and so on, proceeding from right to left over the eight nights. The leftmost candle is always lit first. On the final night, all candles must burn.
As the Parisian lit the candles one by one, moving from left to right, the congregation started chanting Hanerot Halalu, an ancient hymn reminding the sacredness of the Hanukkah lights. The ceremony symbolises the miracle of the temple oil in Jerusalem that was expected to last for a day, but burned for eight. Some secular Jews see this glow as a source of comfort, particularly in a season when days are shorter and nights longer.
As a candle flickered, the man wearing a flat-brimmed black hat, black pants and white shirt, the dress of Hasidic Jews, cupped his palm around the dying flame.
The worshipers then proceeded to the Main Bazaar to light candles on the street. The shopkeepers, beggars and street children clapped. The festival ended with the traditional Hanukkah meal of sufganiyot (doughnuts) and latkes (potato pancake).
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh and last leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement
Shh, he’s praying
Shh, they’re praying
To be continued
Man of the traditions
Star of David
The final evening
Let there be no darkness
Comfort in the cold
The Hanukkah miracle
An ancient sight