From the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History
(William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History)

Chanukah is a topic that has an overwhelming presence in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History.

At times, when I write a “Looking Back,” I have a problem. Some subjects are simply cited so many times that it is hard to decide how to focus the story. Case in point: Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. 

Chanukah is a topic that has an overwhelming presence in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. The holiday is mentioned on about 12,000 pages in the Archive. Chanukah is cited 9,000 times; Hanukah nearly 3,000 times. I find it interesting that, until the 1940s, with a few dozen exceptions, the predominate spelling in the Detroit Jewish Chronicle (1916-1951) was “Chanukah.” The JN, however, first published in 1942, used “Hanukah” through the 1960s, then shifted to Chanukah as the preferred spelling in the 1980s, an editorial convention that continues to this day.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Alene and Graham Landau Archivist Chair

I might venture to say that Chanukah is our favorite holiday at the JN. This is for one salient reason: the annual children’s art contest. It’s a blast! For the past few decades, we’ve had thousands of great entries of original art from our community’s foremost artists — kids! Perhaps the best day of year at the JN is when we gather all the submissions and meet to decide the winners. Let me tell you, this is not an easy process. We get lots of great art. In the recent past, the winners grace the front cover of the JN’s Chanukah issue, and these pages are preserved in the Archive.

One aspect of Chanukah that one often finds in the Archive are images of and stories about menorahs, many on the covers of the JN. As mentioned above, some of these images are envisioned through the eyes of children. Two of my favorite such covers are Jack Novick’s menorah octopus (Dec. 11, 2014, JN) and Emily Tracht’s combo Chanukah/Thanksgiving turkey menorah (Nov. 21, 2013).

From 2013
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

Older menorah covers for the JN and the Chronicle also have their charms. See the photos of kids and menorahs on the cover of the Dec. 21, 1962, and Dec. 3, 1963, issues. The front page of the Nov. 30, 1945, issue of the Chronicle had special meaning. It was the first Chanukah after the end of WWII. Another more sober image is on the cover of the Dec. 31, 1948, Chronicle. It features a menorah behind a man and woman in Israeli military uniform, with a quote from the book of Maccabees: “They were ready either to live or die nobly.”  

There are also several traditions of menorahs in Detroit beyond the pages of the Chronicle and JN. For the past decade, there has been “Menorah in the D.” Since 2011, every Chanukah has been marked by the lighting of a giant 26-foot menorah in the Campus Martius/Cadillac Square in Downtown Detroit. 

From 2016
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

If you cannot make it Downtown for the ceremony, no problem. Since the 1980s, menorahs have come to a place near you in the form of the annual Detroit Menorah Parade sponsored by the local Chabad-Lubavitch, with dozens of cars, often including Michigan State Police cruisers, with menorahs on their roofs. This year’s parade leaves the Lubavitch Yeshiva at 15151 10 Mile Road at 4:40 p.m. on Nov. 29.  

From all of us at the JN – Happy Chanukah! 

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

Previous articleOpinion: Why Is Iran Returning to the Negotiating Table?
Next articleFrankel Jewish Academy Cross Country Runner Merrick Michaelson Runs Alone at State Meet