Yossi Brackman

Rabbi Yossi Brackman, director of Rohr Chabad at the University of Chicago, 5700 S. Woodlawn Ave., poses by his decorated Honda outside his home on 57th Street.

For this year's earlier-than-usual Hanukkah, Director Rabbi Yossi Brackman of Rohr Chabad at the University of Chicago, who lives in the neighborhood, is spreading holiday cheer through his car decoration.

"For quite a number of years, we've had the thing on top, the light up menorah," he said, adding that it lights up three different ways: all at once, sequentially for each passing day or flashing.

This year, however, he saw the hood and side mirror coverings advertised and decided to "really get into the spirit."

"It's fun, and it brings attention to the holiday, which is a theme of spreading light to the outside," he said. "That's the whole theme of Hanukkah, to spread the light outside."

Some 2,186 years ago, the Jewish Maccabees, having succeeded in their revolt against the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire, found that their one-day supply of holy oil was sufficient to light the rededicated Second Temple's menorah for eight days, by which point there was more oil.

Nowadays, Jews light menorahs after dark near doorways or windows "so that passersby will see that we're celebrating the holiday and publicizing the miracle," Brackman said.

"Today, the way we feel about it is that it's publicizing the idea of God's protection, but also the idea of freedom: freedom of religion, freedom of light, which represents goodness to overcome darkness, which is challenges and the problem of evil in the world, and that light always overpowers darkness."

Brackman's display of holiday cheer does come out of a religion with its share of dour holidays. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement; Tisha B'av is the fasting day commemorating the myriad calamities that have befallen the Jewish people through the ages.

But Brackman pointed to Purim, with its costumes, parades and hamantaschen, and Simchat Torah, in which the end of the annual cycle of public Torah readings and the beginning of a new one is marked with feverish, hours-long dancing. (It ironically coincided, he pointed out, with the October 1871 Great Chicago Fire.)

"We have plenty of holidays of merriment," he said. "I mean the Passover Seder — after four cups of wine, it's pretty merry."

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