Extraordinary milestone marked in ordinary fashion

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

EAST LIVERPOOL - Herschel Rubin says no one's ever too old to celebrate Hanukkah.

The one-time East Liverpool optometrist turns 100 in January, but when the sun goes down today, he'll be lighting his Hanukkah menorah just the way he has since he was a little boy.

"I'll say the prayers and then have dinner. It'll just be me and whoever happens to be here with me," Rubin said from his West Fourth Street home, where he's lived since age 10.

Although the eight-day Jewish holiday is most associated with children and young families, Rubin said he still enjoys keeping the traditions of Hanukkah. He has a brass menorah that dates back to his own childhood in East Liverpool and a colorful train menorah-he is an avid model train hobbyist-that is a more recent acquisition.

He enjoys explaining the proper way to light a menorah, starting with the shamash, or "leader" candle. On the first eve of Hanukkah, the shamash is used to light one candle. On the second eve, the shamash is used to light two candles, and so on.

He has a box of 44 colorful candles that he will use up by the end of Hanukkah, on the evening of Dec. 14. "At the end of the eight days, you've got all nine candles burning," he explained.

Once the candles are lit, Rubin will say a series of traditional Jewish blessings in English-three on the first night and two on all subsequent nights. The first one reads, "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us by thy commandments, and commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah."

The modern observance of Hanukkah traces its origins to the second century B.C., when the Syrian king Antiochus, while ruling over Jerusalem, issued a series of laws whose purpose was to eliminate Judaism. As described in 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, Antiochus' actions provoked a revolt that ultimately resulted in the Jews retaking Jerusalem.

In the process of rededicating the Temple, the Jewish leaders had only enough oil for the Temple menorah-a nine-branched candelabrum-to last one day. The oil ended up lasting eight days, which was the time required to prepare a fresh supply of ritually-pure oil. The "miracle of the oil" is celebrated today in the daily lighting of the Hanukkah menorah.

Rubin's memories of Hanukkah as a child are hazy, but he said its observance was always at home around the dinner table-not at Temple B'nai Israel, the East Liverpool Reform synagogue he grew up attending. Gifts were given to the children, partly as a concession to the popularity of Christmas.

"The parents probably were pressured to have something for their kids that their Christian friends were having," he said. "Because of the fact that Christmas was so big, the Jewish children felt neglected. We did have some gift giving."

Later, while rearing his own children, Leon and Elsa Ann, with his wife, Elsa Sarah, they followed similar traditions. "We didn't make that big a deal of it," he said.