Holidays can be such meaningful times, sometimes harboring heartfelt memories both personal and societal, brought to life by associated artifacts.
Delaware County Historical Society is the steward of many holiday treasures, including dreidels, Torahs, prayer books and a menorah as a commemoration to Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.
Most of these items were donated by Daniel Harwitz, nephew of Eugene Harwitz of Aston. The Harwitz family arrived in New York from Ukraine and Romania in Eastern Europe in the early part of the 20th century before some came to the Philadelphia area where they celebrated Hanukkah as many Americans of Jewish descent do.
In the Jewish faith, Hanukkah is a minor holiday. However, in the United States, it has ballooned mostly because of its proximity to Christmas.
The eight-day holiday commemorates the Maccabee revolt. During the Hellenistic period in Judea, Antiochus IV forced those of the Jewish religion to convert to the Greek religion or be put to death. Through that time, the Temple of Jerusalem was desecrated.
The Jewish priest Mattathias began the revolt against the Greeks, which was carried on by his son, Judah Maccabee. Maccabee led a group of fighters, who prevailed.
As a result, the Temple needed to repurified in 165 BCE. However, although the Israelites only had enough oil for one day, the light stayed lit for eight, which is the reason for Hanukkah’s eight day celebration.
Each night, people of Jewish descent light the menorah, adding another candle each night, until all are aglow. Sometimes, small gifts are exchanged. Fried foods such as latkes and jelly donuts are eaten to remember the miracle of the oil.
There’s also a game played with a toy called a driedel. On its sides are the words that spell, “A great miracle happened there.” And depending on which side is rolled, a player can get half, none or all of the pot of candy, nuts or coins - or they have to add to it.
The Torah at DCHS comes from Tel Aviv and the Hebrew script can be read from the back.
DCHS honors this and all holidays and welcomes all to celebrate our personal and collective history in reminding ourselves of the characteristics of time and tradition that create the fabric of life.
These Hanukkah treasures and more can be seen at the home of Delaware County Historical Society, located at 408 Avenue of the States in Chester. It is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Friday; 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday; and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Parking is free in lot behind the building or across the street in the city’s municipal lot.
For more information or for ways to get involved, please call 610-359-0832.
Copies of the Torah and a menorah are among the Hanukkah artifacts at DCHS.