Among the many millions of us who celebrated Hanukkah alongside Thanksgiving, a few active Facebook users came upon a small phenomenon: People who observed Hanukkah who aren’t even Jewish. These aren’t people who have Jewish spouses or family members who brought their holidays into the relationship. Instead, on their own they learned about the holiday and decided lighting a menorah would fit nicely into their lives.
Lisa Davenport of Bellevue grew up without religion, but “I’ve always had a lot of Jewish friends and always had a great deal of respect for the Jewish faith and drawn a lot of inspiration from Jewish writers,” she said.
She would have been satisfied to leave her Jewish involvement at that, were it not for her daughter Aya, 15.
“She was invited to several Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs and she loved it. She kept saying, ‘Why aren’t we Jewish?’” Davenport said. “She really wanted to celebrate Hanukkah.”
Aya wanted her own menorah, “so this year,” Davenport said, “I went out and got a menorah.”
And for eight nights the family lit the candles. They didn’t know the prayers, but they talked about the Hanukkah story, and compared it to difficult times in their own lives.
And, Davenport added, “I went to Goldberg’s and had a latke.”
Debra Kumar’s interest in Judaism goes back to 1994, upon the sudden death of her mother. For part of her life she had been raised Catholic, but her family left the church and she dabbled in other Christian denominations. “But then when my mother died,” she said, “everything flew out the window.”
So Kumar took it upon herself to learn about different world religions, “and when I got done, it was Judaism that spoke to me most logically,” she said. “I loved reading about the rituals, and the family traditions, and the traditions that are carried on in the community.”
The first of Kumar’s three children came along in 1995, and since then she and her husband, who is Hindu and comes from India, always made a point of talking about different faith traditions, though they don’t adhere to any single one. They put up a Christmas tree each year, she said, and they also light candles.
“We’ve had a menorah for a long time. I found it at a garage sale,” she said. “We’ll light the candles, and we’ll know what the meaning of it is.”
Though they have a lot of Jewish friends, Kumar noted, they haven’t actually celebrated the holiday with them.
“I’ve been to Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs, that’s about it,” she said, but she finds them to be beautiful ceremonies.
“I’m always moved when I attend one of those and listen to the child read from the Torah,” she said.
Paige Stockley “grew up in a very liberal Episcopalian family and never knew any Jewish people growing up in Bellevue,” but “The Diary of Anne Frank” sparked an interest in the Holocaust at the age of 13.
“Gradually, I read more and more about the Holocaust, to the point where for the last 15 years, it is the only subject I read about (WW2 in general) because I continue to be shocked that such a thing could have happened,” Stockley told JTNews in an email.
When Stockley, a cellist, went to New York to attend the Manhattan School of Music, she made many Jewish friends.
“Occasionally they would invite me to Passover celebrations,” she wrote, but she had yet to celebrate Hanukkah.
Fast forward to a decade ago, when she bought a house in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood next door to Dick and Kim Asia. The Asias would hold a lavish Hanukkah party each year, to which Stockley and her family were invited.
“I was thrilled to be a part of his Hanukkah celebration, in particular because it was a great way for my daughter to learn about Jewish traditions in a way that was very meaningful, considering that Dick was our neighbor,” she said.
In addition, she said, “it fits in with my politics — I think she should know about other traditions.”
What made the party more special, Stockley said, was that the Asias had been like parents to her after her own parents went down in Alaska Flight 261 in 2000.
Last year was different, however. Dick Asia was diagnosed with cancer in fall 2012. Because there was no party, her daughter Daisy “lit our menorah and put it in the kitchen window facing Dick and Kim’s living room,” Stockley said. “She cried and prayed for Dick.” He died a few weeks later.
This year, Stockley held the party. “By this time, Daisy was an expert on spinning the dreidel, knew the Hanukkah story inside out, and looked forward to the food and games and presents,” she said.
And with her other Jewish friends who joined her for this year’s celebrations, Stockley said that going forward, her home is the place to be for Hanukkah.
Desiree Pollock, also of Bellevue, hasn’t lit candles recently, but she did for quite a few years. It all started with her husband Aaron, who isn’t Jewish. But his college fraternity had a bunch of Jewish guys, so he would celebrate with them.
“Throughout the years we just were always around those kinds of holidays,” Pollock said.
When one of those Jewish frat buddies moved to the area with his wife and needed a place to stay while they built their house, the Pollocks volunteered their home for Jewish celebrations.
“Depending on what was needed, we’ve had some Hanukkah celebrations, we did Passover a couple times,” she said.
The family doesn’t practice a religion, Pollock said, but she’s always enjoyed the Jewish celebrations.
“There’s a reason for each one of those holidays, it’s not just getting together and having the food,” she said. “There is a family involvement, and so I like that.”
Pollock’s two kids, both of whom have left the nest, actually attended Catholic school, so they had exposure to world religions, at least on an academic level.
“When you go to a religious school, that’s built into the curriculum,” she said. “There’s no getting away from that.”
And while the kids were invited to plenty of Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations, “I don’t think it much of an affect on them, other than understanding another culture,” she said.
While all of these families are happy to celebrate, they also wanted to educate. Stockley’s 8-year-old daughter Daisy knows exactly why her family celebrates Hanukkah: “Because we have many Jewish friends and we want to celebrate their traditions, too.”
Respect plays a part as well.
“I’ve been very careful because I don’t want to be disrespectful,” Davenport said.
Kumar echoed those sentiments.
“It’s kind of funny that we still adhere to this little ritual, and I hope that Jewish people don’t find it offensive,” she said. “We’re acknowledging Hanukkah, we’re acknowledging the events that occurred, and the customs that are built up around that.”
Kumar noted that her family’s candlelighting tradition was for her kids to learn about a different tradition. She is positive that as adults they will have a better appreciation for all faiths.
“Maybe I wouldn’t have done it had I not had a certain affinity for Jewish faith to begin with,” she said. “We’re a blended family and we already come from pretty distinctive upbringings, and it works beautifully.”