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Friday, December 23, 2011

The Fourth Candle: An Old City Custom

"Jewish Quarter Wall- Hewn Chanukiah Indentation" c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz
The wafting smell of  burning olive oil is in the air nightly as my neighbors light their candles and lamps.   Lighting candles,  or the preferred oil lamps, is most commonly done in an open window at nighttime while people are still walking about, in order to publicize the miracle of the single oil container that defied physics and lasted for eight full days instead of the expected one day. As with art, it is one thing to perform the ceremony and make the appropriate blessings, but these lights in the dark night are meant to be seen by others.  

It is preferred to light one's candles outdoors, near the doorway of the building, so that the flames are visible by passers-by. Commonly, people use a glass box to house their chanukiot so that the lit  flames will be protected from the evening winds. This is especially important on Friday evenings, like tonight, when care is taken to ensure that the Chanukah candles, lit just before Sabbath candles, will stay lit for at least an hour. It is also the only time during the holiday when all observant Jews light their candles at the same time,  so it is the chance to see the many lit chanukiot all at once - a draw for anyone  wanting to view this without the weekday commercial atmosphere on the other nights. Neighborhood children go on a chanukiah "hunt" to count the lighted candelabra they see in windows and doorways at dusk.


 "Chanukiah Window, the Jewish Quarter"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz
In the Old City,  this is sometimes taken one more step. There is a local custom, when possible, to carve into the exterior stone of the building and make an indentation - making  a special built-in window for the sole purpose of  housing the chanukia for this week.  

Here is my personal  Chanukah “window”  where I  light my candles.  It is placed on the left side of the entrance to my home, as is the custom, so that  with a mezuzah on the right side of the doorway, the portal to the home has religious commandments (mitzvot) flanking it.

"Menora and Ripening Oranges" c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

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