Mainstreams: Jewish families celebrate Festival of Lights

by Nate Gotlieb

Contributing Writer

Christmas lights and decorations cover houses in Sue Lyon’s Rogers neighborhood.

Lyon decorated her house, too, but for an entirely different holiday: Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights.

Menorahs cover a table at a Hanukkah party in Golden Valley, attended by the Reich family of Otsego.
Menorahs cover a table at a Hanukkah party in Golden Valley, attended by the Reich family of Otsego.

The longtime Rogers resident hosted her Jewish friends, Myra and Jimmy Jensen and Anibal and Claudia Peixoto, all of Rogers, for a Hanukkah party last week. They ate potato pancakes, known as latkes, which are a staple of the holiday, and lit the menorah, another symbol of the festival.

There aren’t many Jewish families in the Elk River area, but those in the area celebrated the eight-day holiday with family, friends and holiday traditions.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Jewish holy temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabees’ war victory over the Syrians in ancient times. The holiday typically occurs from late November to late December, depending on the Jewish calendar.

From left to right: Myra and Jimmy Jensen, Sue Lyon and Anibal and Claudia Peixoto, of Rogers, celebrated Hanukkah last Saturday by lighting the Menorah, as they have done for years.
From left to right: Myra and Jimmy Jensen, Sue Lyon and Anibal and Claudia Peixoto, of Rogers, celebrated Hanukkah last Saturday by lighting the Menorah, as they have done for years.

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Maccabees had enough oil to light the lamps in the temple for just one night after reclaiming the temple. The oil lasted for eight nights, a miracle, according to Jewish tradition.

Jews celebrate Hanukkah by lighting candles, saying blessings, singing songs and eating food fried in oil, such as the potato pancakes and doughnuts. Many American Jewish families also exchange presents during the holiday.

Deborah and Joe Mahoney, of Monticello, gave presents to their two kids before the holiday so they could “focus on the meaning of the holiday during it,” Joe Mahoney said.

“We celebrate it for what it is,” said Mahoney, whose kitchen counter was covered with Menorahs and cards explaining different aspects of the holiday. “We keep it low key.”

The Mahoneys, both physicians in Monticello, said they are the only Jews in their area as far as they know. They said their neighbors are supportive, but they are low-key about being Jewish.

Deborah is originally from the East Coast, and Joe grew up in a non-Jewish home in Bismarck, North Dakota. They met during their time at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and have been raising their kids as Jewish. They drive their oldest son to religious school each week at Bet Shalom synagogue in Minnetonka.

The Rogers families also attend synagogue at Bet Shalom and sent their kids to religious school year. Each of their six kids had a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony for kids around their 13th year.

Myra Jensen and Claudia Peixoto met about 13 years ago, when their oldest sons had a play date.

“I was just excited to meet a Jewish person in Rogers,” Peixoto said.

They soon met Lyon, and all of them had kids around the same age. They began carpooling to synagogue and sharing Jewish holidays together.

Matt Reich, of Otsego, his wife, Meghan, and their kids, Ally and Ashton, also go to Bet Shalom, driving there for religious school once a week.

The Reiches celebrated Hanukkah by lighting the candles and saying the blessings each night, along with giving presents to the kids. They also attended Hanukkah parties at Bet Shalom and with their family in Golden Valley.

“Basically every night we come home, the kids are ready to eat dinner and light the candles,” Reich said, adding that the kids are always excited about the presents. “They can’t wait for this time of year.”

Reich said people in the area sometimes ask them what they are doing for Christmas. He is honest with them about his family’s’ faith and makes sure to tell them his kids still get presents.

“Everybody is very open and kind,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to be of a different faith out here.”