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This year's Hanukkah celebrations are tempered by Israel's war with Hamas

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hey, tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. The celebration of the holiday is tempered this year by Israel's war with Hamas. To understand how some synagogues are marking the holiday during wartime, we called two rabbis - one in Washington, D.C., and one in California. Barry Lutz is the interim rabbi at Kol Ami reform synagogue in West Hollywood. And he says the message of Hanukkah is needed in these times.

BARRY LUTZ: For me, it is really a story about the ability of the human spirit to overcome all kinds of obstacles, to find light in even the darkest of moments.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Many members of the Southern California synagogue identify as queer. Lutz says the feelings many Jewish people are having now echo the experiences of some gay people.

LUTZ: I had somebody come to me and talk about feeling particularly conspicuous. They went to buy things for Hanukkah, and standing in line felt very much conspicuous in their Jewishness that they were holding all this stuff. If you're a member of the queer community, you've had to live your life that way.

INSKEEP: Lutz says the emotional complexities of this moment get incorporated into the joy of the holiday.

LUTZ: All of that goes along with eating latkes and jelly doughnuts and singing songs and spinning dreidels and just enjoying each other's company and feeling the support and promise that we bring to each other.

MARTIN: In Washington, D.C., Rabbi Eliana Fischel says the Washington Hebrew Congregation has been hosting regular conversations about the war.

ELIANA FISCHEL: We've been having around 70 people here every Monday, learning from political officials, from national officials, from Jewish officials about what's going on. So one way that we're approaching this is through education and deep education that is diverse.

INSKEEP: And for Hanukkah, the congregation plans something bright.

FISCHEL: We're actually theming our Shabbat Hanukkah with neon this year. So we have not only our Hanukkiot, but we're going to have glow sticks and neon lights.

MARTIN: Rabbi Fischel says there's even a dress code of sorts.

FISCHEL: We're telling people to wear some white as a way to say that we are really bringing a ton of light into this really dark time.

INSKEEP: OK, so break out the candles, the first of which will be lit tonight. And they shine through next week.

MARTIN: So to all those celebrating, however you're celebrating, chag sameach. Happy Hanukkah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHAG SAMEACH")

BERI WEBER: (Singing in Hebrew). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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