Drive around the Meyerland area during evening hours this time of year and it is possible to spot lit menorahs showcased in the windows of homes owned by practicing Jewish families.

Serving as a more unique Jewish celebration because of its public-facing nature, the Hanukkah celebration—which is being observed over eight nights and eight days from Nov. 28-Dec. 6—commemorates Jerusalem’s recovery as well as the rededication of the second iteration of the Jewish holy temple in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago.

“Many Jewish holidays take place in the home or in the synagogue,” said Rabbi Barry Gelman, director of Jewish Living and Learning at the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center in Meyerland. “But when it comes to a specific ritual practice of doing our Hanukkah celebrations in a public way, the most well-known element of that would be lighting a Hanukkah menorah in our windows.”

Meyerland, which traces its origins back to Houston's Jewish community, acts as a hub for Jewish culture and festivities, and features many synagogues, including Beth Israel, the oldest congregation in Texas, and Beth Yeshurun, the largest conservative synagogue in the country.

A menorah typically takes the form of a nine-branched candelabra with each of the nine branches holding lights—either candles or oil lamps—that symbolize the eight nights of the holiday. The ninth candle, the shammash, is used to light one additional candle each night until all candles are lit on the final night of the festival.

As the story goes, when Jerusalem’s holy temple was retaken by the Jews from the Seleucids, the Jews looked to cleanse and rededicate the temple. There was only enough consecrated oil to relight the candelabra for one day, yet, miraculously, it remained lit for eight days.

The public-facing nature of the holiday has been a bit of a byproduct of a gradual change over time in how the holiday is celebrated, Gelman said, exemplified in community menorah lightings. The Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center held its own public lightings Nov. 29-30 and Dec. 1.

People have become more comfortable with the public manifestation of their faith, Gelman said.

“I think that is a function of changes in America in general, of feelings and attitudes towards Jewish people," he said. “At this moment in American history, I think there's also a nuance in the sense that, while within general American culture the Jewish community and Jewish people are welcome and are full partners in the in the experience of America, there is an individual sort of vigilante, I guess you'd call them, episodes of antisemitism that are on the rise.”

In 2020, there were 2,024 reported antisemitic incidents throughout the U.S., according to a 2020 audit of antisemitic incidents from the Anti-Defamation League. That is a 4% decrease from the 2,107 incidents recorded in 2019, but still remains the third-highest year on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.

While menorah lightings are the most well-known Hanukkah practice, other Hanukkah festivities exist, including songs, playing the game of dreidel and eating oil-based foods, such as the potato pancake latkes and round jelly doughnuts known as sufganiyot.

In Meyerland, the ERJCC looks to act as a center for these types of cultural festivities, Gelman said.

“One of the things the [ERJCC] has its eye on is how it can be an entry point of Jewish life for Jews in our community,” he said. “We try very hard to have low barrier Jewish events that people feel comfortable coming into where there is no sort of religious pressure or expectation, just for people to come and taste aspects of Judaism.”

The Jewish community center also makes it a point to partner with other Jewish organizations, Gelman said. For example, on Dec. 2, the ERJCC is partnering with Houston nonprofit Jewston for a 7 p.m. bazaar targeting young professionals.

The remaining Hanukkah events of note offered in part by the ERJCC include the two listed below.

  • Family Menorah Lighting at the Park: The event is offered by the ERJCC, Chabad Outreach, Jewish Children’s Events in Houston and Jewish nonprofit PJ Library. 4:30 p.m. Godwin Park, 5101 Rutherglenn Drive, Houston.

  • Hanukkah Bazaar: The ERJCC and Jewston offer this event for young professionals in their 20s and early 30s. 7 p.m. Houston Hillel, 1700 Bissonnet St., Houston.