TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hanukkah, A Festival of Lights in Fiber

Sieberdesigns Hanukkah Wall Hanging on Etsy

"Hanukkah (Hebrew: חנוכה‎, IPA: ['χanuka], alt. Chanukah), also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, and may occur from late November to late December on the Gregorian calendar."

So begins Wikipedia's explanation of Hanukkah, a complex story of revolt, miracles, and celebration, layered in history and Jewish tradition. The holiday's most recognized symbol, the Menorah, represents the Festival of Lights.

Traditional Menorah

"The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a special candelabrum, the nine-branched Menorah or Hanukiah, one light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. An extra light called a shamash (Hebrew: "guard" or "servant") is also lit each night, and is given a distinct location, usually higher or lower than the others." (Wikipedia)

The Hanukkah story is complex to non-Jews, reflecting a people's history of struggle and liberation. Leonard Nimoy does a wonderful job of making the story come to life through his narration, "Chanukah in Story and Song". NPR runs the program yearly and each time, the delightful program seems fresh to me:

"Narrated by Leonard Nimoy and sung by the acclaimed vocal sextet The Western Wind Vocal Ensemble, Chanukah in Story and Song is a unique holiday program created especially for public radio listeners. This delightfully engaging program presents 25 eclectic selections, from the Ladino songs of the Spanish Jews and Yiddish melodies of Eastern Europe to modern Israeli tunes and the ensemble's original version of "I Have a Little Dreydle." The ensemble performs a cappella as well as with instrumental accompaniment. The narration, written by Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, sheds new light on the holiday's customs and rituals."

I thought it would be fun to find some Hanukkah quilts for this post, but found that there were not many via a Google search. I did find an interesting site, JudaiQuilt, which explores Jewish textiles. The site owner, Cathy Perlmutter, states:

"Both the process and the product of quilting dovetails beautifully with Jewish ritual and history. As in most cultures, Judaism involves an abundance of beautiful and thought-provoking textiles, whether for daily use, holidays, or lifecycle milestones. Learning about the history and meaning of these textiles has been one of the most fascinating and fun parts of my journey."

The site welcomes submissions from Jewish fiber artists around the world, including the Hanukkah quilt below made by Sue Fineberg:

Hanukkah Quilt by Sue Fineberg

I also found another site, Kol Haverim, which stumped me a bit. A community of humanistic Jews, they seek to explore identity without being religious, yet many of their celebrations are rooted in religious tradition. I understand the desire to connect with ones roots, but it seems to me that some things cannot be sliced away from their point of origin and still remain meaningful. In any case, they use this beautiful quilt as their icon:

I took a look on Etsy and found lots of beautiful clay and metal menorahs plus a couple of Hanukkah-themed fiber items:

Hanukkah Menorah Afghan by crochetbunny

Felted Chanuka Tapestry by Nushkie

If you know of any other sources, please leave them as a comment so that we have some more references for the future.

I must end this post with my two favorite political comics, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, as they sing about Hanukkah and Christmas. Enjoy!


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“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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