For many of us, this time of year means one thing: Christmas. But for our Jewish friends, this is Hanukkah’s time of year! It’s a special holiday full of joy and celebration. Families make memories together and remember the miracle of the oil and the rededication of the Temple.
If you’ve never celebrated Hanukkah before, you might feel like you’ve missed out. Fortunately, we have some friends who can make you feel like you’re right there enjoying it with them! This week three Friends of Israel employees—Steve Herzig, Lorna Simcox, and Mitch Triestman—get together to reminisce about their favorite Hanukkah memories. Their stories will make you feel like you’re sitting in the living room with them, catching up and talking about the good old days of Hanukkah celebrations in years gone by. Join us for this fun roundtable discussion that will get you excited for Hanukkah!
Steve Conover: Welcome to The Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover, with me is our host and teacher, Chris Katulka. We have a packed show for you today. So we're going to take as much time as we can for that content. Chris who's with us in the studio?
Chris Katulka: Yeah. The reason it's packed is because we have three of our Jewish friends with us, Steve, Mitch and Lorna, all working with Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, talking about what it was like growing up in a Jewish household, celebrating Hanukkah. You're not going to want to miss this. It's funny, it's enlightening and I think it's going to bless you.
We have in studio three dear friends, three dear colleagues, Steve Herzig, the director of North American Ministries, Lorna Simcox, who is the editor-in-chief of our Flagship magazine, Israel My Glory, and Mitch Triestman. Mitch, I don't know what you do, what do you do Mitch? Mitch is our field ministries representative here in the Philadelphia, Harrisburg area, investing his life and energy into ministering to the Jewish community here.
It's great to have everyone here. We're going to be talking about Hanukkah, growing up and celebrating Hanukkah. Everybody in this room but me is Jewish. And there's a saying, when there's three rabbis in a room, you leave with how many opinions? Four different opinions.
So, I don't know what's going to happen here today, but let me just say this, Steve came into the studio and said, "You got to lead with this question, how many gifts did you receive growing up Jewish during Hanukkah?" So I'm going to leave it with that. How many gifts did you get growing up during Hanukkah?
Steve Herzig: Well, Chris, it's great to be here. I know we were talking beforehand and Mitch was saying that he got nothing. “Bupkis” is the Yiddish word for that. Lorna said she got one and when I was growing up, when I was young, very young, first few years, we got a gift each day, for each of the nights of Hanukkah.
Chris Katulka: Okay. So everybody had a different Hanukkah experience?
Mitch Triestman: Yeah. I think the gift-giving starts later. Back in the... Hundreds of years ago, they never gave gifts at Hanukkah, and it's only recently with Christmas season that all the Gentile kids have piled up under the tree, the Jewish family starts real late and started to give a gift here and a gift there, and she got one, he got eight, and I was a little too old to get any.
Steve Herzig: Well, I don't know about you guys, but when I would go back to school after the holidays, we called it “Christmas holidays” at our school.
Mitch Triestman: Right.
Steve Herzig: But after I got back, the kids had, like they bought out the store. I did get eight little gifts but they got a complete wardrobe. They got every kind of game you can imagine, I got bupkis. How about you Lorna?
Lorna Simcox: I got one gift, that was it. But that was all, I never thought about getting more than that because I don... I think I agree exactly with what Mitch is saying. Back when I was little, nobody I knew got one every night, it was not that kind of a thing.
Chris Katulka: Can I ask really quick to Lorna, how did you grow up? In what type of family? How did you celebrate? Were you religious? Can you tell us about that?
Lorna Simcox: Okay. Well, we were conservative Jews and we went to a conservative synagogue, but actually my mother grew up Orthodox and my father was an atheist. And the only reason he went to the synagogue, he didn't go actually to the synagogue, he went when we had a Hanukkah play.
We always had a play on Hanukkah and the synagogue had a Hanukkah party for the kids who went to Hebrew school, which I did. But my father said that if there were a God, he would not have allowed 6 million Jews to be killed during World War II, and that turned him into a confirmed atheist. The only reason he sent us to the synagogue was because he wanted us to grow up as Jews.
Chris Katulka: Okay, how about you Mitch?
Mitch Triestman: I relate to that. Many of the Jewish men I knew made that same decision in their lives and my father steadfastly wanted to continue to faith in God. We were raised in a conservative home and the synagogue was Orthodox conservatives because it was the only synagogue in the community.
And my father said, "We're Jews, we're not religious Jews. We do Jewish things, we live in a Jewish home, we go to a Jewish shul and just remember, you're a Jew, you're not like them, you're a Jew." And Hanukkah was part of the Jewish tradition, lighting candles every night for eight nights, that's what Jews did.
Chris Katulka: Okay. That was a part of the tradition of being Jewish, not necessarily being religious.
Mitch Triestman: It's part of the family. This is what our family does, we don't worry about what the other family, they keep kosher, that's their business, they don't, that's their business. We, this is what we do.
Chris Katulka: How about you Steve?
Steve Herzig: Well, I could relate to both what Lorna is saying and Mitch is saying, we're Jews. My father was a World War II vet as well. The Holocaust meant a lot to him and affected him the rest of his life as far as his spiritual thinking is concerned. But when it came to Hanukkah, it was, "We're Jews," and there was a clear contrast with all the commercials on TV and all, we're not them. And I think all three of us can relate to that. Hanukkah was something we did, we knew how to do it, we put the menorah in the front, we lit the candles, we had potato latkes. And usually Jewish families, I don't know about you two, but the way our family did it, whether it was Hanukkah or Passover, that's the right way to do it. You went to another home and if they didn't do it the way you did it, they're not doing it the right way. Can you relate at all, Lorna?
Lorna Simcox: Well, we didn't do much, because my father didn't want it in the house.
Chris Katulka: Well then his dad thought you were wrong.
Steve Herzig: That's right.
Lorna Simcox: Yes, exactly.
Steve Herzig: "Don't go to that house, they're like goyim.
Mitch Triestman: One year there was a big argument. We went to Mark Lichter’s house, I shouldn't say that on the radio. And his parents lit the Hanukkah candles after the Sabbath lights on Friday night.
Steve Herzig: Oh boy.
Mitch Triestman: This is for both.. and you can't do it because once Sabbath begins, you can't light candles.
Steve Herzig: That's right. Unclean hannukiah.
Mitch Triestman: Hanukkah candles are lightened before the Shabbat candles.
Chris Katulka: I want to just say this too for our listeners, if you're joining in, we have some dear Jewish friends here, and the one thing that unites all of us is that Steve, Mitch and Lorna, yes they are Jewish, but they have also placed their trust and their faith, in the Lord Jesus, the Messiah. So I want to make that clear, because if you're listening, the backgrounds that we're hearing right now are so important, but they are also met in one awesome place, and that is in the personhood in the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus, the Messiah.
So we're going to talk about that more later, but I want to ask, how did growing up probably in a very Jewish community, but also surrounded by a Christian culture, how did that impact Hanukkah for you all? Mitch, I'll lead with you on that one.
Mitch Triestman: Well, Christmas takes on such a... it wasn't a craze as big then as it is now, but still even then, countdown to Christmas, extra shopping days, people decorate their homes, and Hanukkah was such a insignificant holiday compared to the overwhelming bash of the Christmas time. But we always knew that we had a uniqueness, and I like being different, I like being special, I like the fact that that's not us, this is us. We don't eat like them, we do things different. I worship on Shabbat, not on Sunday and so on. And...
Chris Katulka: Where did you grow up too, Mitch?
Mitch Triestman: Most of my... I was born in Brooklyn, lived in New York to five. Most of my life was, the grow up years was from five to 17 in Dumont, New Jersey. And I went to the Bergenfield-Dumont Jewish Community Center. And I was bar-mitzvahed there in 1960. So that's where I grew up. But we went to Chicago after that, but most of my life is walking to shul with my dad. It was three quarters of a mile from Dumont to the synagogue. Walked on Saturday. I always remember the day that he let go of my hand and let me walk, I was 17, no. But I mean, I walk with my father to shul, that's a memory a lot of people don't have.
Chris Katulka: Yeah.
Mitch Triestman: Because a lot of the other men stopped going to shul by the time of my father's age. He would walk to shul with myself every Saturday morning, which was a great experience.
Chris Katulka: Yeah, great tradition. How about you Lorna? How did growing up in a very Christian culture impact the Hanukkah or anything of that nature?
Lorna Simcox: Actually, we might've had a Christian culture, but I was very, very steeped in the synagogue. All my friends were Jewish, I went to Hebrew school three days a week, all the way through high school. And I went to Camp Ramah and I was a member of the United Synagogue Youth and Young Judaea and I was really embedded into the Jewish community.
To be honest with you, it didn't, all that Christmas stuff, I thought it was really pretty. And growing up in Vermont, we had a lot of snow at Christmas, so it was more a seasonal kind of thing for me. But I was a Jew and the Jewish things were my things. So, I didn't really focus much on Christmas. It was just something the goyim did. It wasn't anything I did.
Chris Katulka: Yeah, definitely. Well, listen, if you're just joining in, we're talking about what it was like growing up Jewish and celebrating Hanukkah during this time. But before we continue, because we've got a lot more to discuss here. Before we continue, I want to introduce you to actually a book that Lorna wrote. It's a book called, "The Search," and it's really a book of Lorna's testimony and coming to faith in Jesus, the Messiah. Lorna, what made you want to write this book? Really, you were saying it was agonizing almost to pour your heart out during this book, what made you want to do that?
Lorna Simcox: Well, I felt it was... Growing up, I always was told that Jesus was like the goyishe God. The goyim, the non-Jews, bow down to a man and we, as Jews, we worship the invisible one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And when I... after a long search, well, not as long as some Jewish people have, but I began wondering actually, "Who is Jesus?" And it took me about two years and the Lord showed me that Jesus actually is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And I thought, "This is something that Jewish people need to understand." That he's not a goyishe God, that Christians don't bow down to a man, they're bowing down to the God of Israel.
Chris Katulka: Mm-hmm.
Lorna Simcox: And he is the Messiah of Israel. And it says in Isaiah, “it's too small a thing”, the Father said that, "You should just be the Messiah of Israel. I'm going to make you the Savior of the whole world." And it's our Messiah, who is the Savior of the entire world. It's through him we have a forgiveness of sin, he took our sin upon him and it says in Isaiah, "With his stripes, we are healed, all we like sheep have gone astray, we've turned everyone to his own way. And the Lord's laid on him, the iniquity of us all," and I saw it...
I was so surprised after 11 years, 12 years of Hebrew school to find this out, to learn this as an adult that I wanted to share it because it's, I love my people and I want them to understand how much Jesus loves them and who He really is and that's why I wrote the book.
Chris Katulka: It's a fantastic book and I want to encourage our listeners right now. You can get Lorna's, The Search, by simply going to Foiradio.org and there at our website, you can connect right to the book. The Search is such a great tool for not only hearing about Lorna's testimony and how she came to faith, but how you can also learn how to minister to your Jewish friends around you. So I want to encourage you to go to Foiradio.org and there you can get The Search.
Steve, we left off with Lorna. What was it like for you as you were coming up, how much did the Christian culture influence Hanukkah for you in any way?
Steve Herzig: Well, I think it influenced the Jewish community. We had a large Jewish community, the area that I lived, almost everybody was Jewish. Of the 3000 kids in my high school, probably 2,700 of them are Jewish. But nonetheless, Christmas was still big in Northeast Ohio. There were lights everywhere, the stores were decorated with stuff and so in that sense, we just said, "Oh, that's what they do, but we have our own stuff and we could do what we do."
And I agree with Mitch, I have the fondness of walking to synagogue with my dad, same kind of thing. What's interesting, I have to say it, Mitch was five years old when he left Brooklyn, do you still hear the Brooklyn accent? What... Five years old? It's like he just got off the bus in Philadelphia! I'm saying, this is crazy!
But in here I joke about that, there's a sense.. being Jewish. What's that whole thing mean? We have our own stuff, but our own stuff really resonates and resides even if we're an atheist father, a mixed marriage is what Lorna's experience had, an atheist and a more observant Jew. We're Jewish, but we're not like everybody else.
It's interesting that God put that in his people. We scattered all over the place since 70 AD, here's three Jewish people who are Jewish. And we do believe in the Messiah, but if you're listening, you can hear there is that sense that we're different, we're still different than the goyim.
Chris Katulka: Yeah, it's true.
Steve Herzig: I'm still different than you Chris. But at the same time, when the Bible says the middle wall of partition has been broken, you're laughing at our jokes. That means you're getting it.
Chris Katulka: But I do want to say this because not only were you different, as you say, but you're even more different than you were before because you all are Jewish believers, which makes you even more different in your own community.
Mitch Triestman: I want to say something about not identifying with the Gentiles and not going out with them and so on. And that is something people don't realize. The only Gentiles who came into our home were plumbers...electricians.
Lorna Simcox: We had a Jewish plumber.
Mitch Triestman: Really, we had, I never knew...I knew they were there. But I don't think Black and White or Hispanic, I think Jew and them.
Chris Katulka: Yeah.
Mitch Triestman: And I still tend to think that way, although we’re all one in Messiah.
Chris Katulka: Can I ask you too Mitch? Now that you're a believer in Jesus, how has that changed Hanukkah for you in any way?
Mitch Triestman: Well, Hanukkah now is a wonderful time to present the gospel. And look at the Christological implications when it occurred historically and how that gave Israel back the land and all of those things, the temple, the real light, real worship, true dedication and how Messiah was in the temple at the feast of dedication. It's mentioned in the New Testament and so on and yeah, it's a whole. Now I look forward to that and the grandchildren now, but that's outside of their faith.
Chris Katulka: Yeah for it. But they're still, being able to transfer those traditions are still important to your family.
Mitch Triestman: I love my kids, they light the candles, they send me videos of the kids, lighting the candles, saying the prayers. It's a beautiful thing.
Chris Katulka: Steve, how about you? How has being a believer in Jesus impacted the way that you see Hanukkah compared to what it was like before?
Steve Herzig: Just like Mitch, and I'm sure Lorna as well, in the ministry that God has called us and Lorna's husband, Tom, is in our department as well. We go to churches, we take the menorah, the hanukkiah, we talk about the Shamash candle, the servant candle, that lights all the other candles. And we can tie that into a church, a congregation, and say, "When you were young, you sing this little light of mine, who lights your light? Of course, it's Christ."
And we could take the Hanukkah menorah, take the Shamash candle and say, "These candles don't get any light unless they have the servant. Who is the servant?"
Mitch Triestman: Amen.
Steve Herzig: And so we preach the gospel just in a sense, the Jewishness of the gospel. Because in John chapter 10, as Mitch said, Jesus is celebrating the feast of dedication. And it's interesting, Lorna, I think it'd be great if you comment on it. It was in John chapter 10, that Jesus said, "The father and I are one," that like pierces the heart of a Jew... It's hard to comprehend. Wasn't it for you Lorna?
Lorna Simcox: It was, and I remember when I first started thinking, wondering, "Who actually is Jesus? Who really was he?" Well, my very best friend, Nancy, who is Jewish, God saved before I did and had been praying for me for an entire year. And I was out in California and she'd given me the gospel for the first time ever. I had never heard the gospel before. And I remember I was staying at a Marriott and I pulled open the drawer and I thought, "There must be a Bible in here somewhere." And there was a Bible and I started trying to read, I opened up to Matthew, which is like the begats, the worst place in the world when you don't know anything about the New Testament.
Steve Herzig: "Who starts a book like this?"
Lorna Simcox: I know, it was... So, I thought, "This isn't going to work, I've got to find something else," and I went into, I think it was John chapter 10, but I'm not positive. And I was struggling with everything that had been done to the Jewish people in the name of Christ. And I was really struggling with that.
And I read where Jesus was talking and he said, basically, "Don't look at the things people do, look at me, look at what I do and see that I'm doing the works of the Father." And it was like the Lord said to me, "Don't look at what everybody's done in my Name. Look at me, look at what I'm doing." And that completely eradicated my feelings that all this persecution that's been done in the name of Christ. I thought, "Those are just people, I have to look at Christ himself."
Chris Katulka: Yeah.
Lorna Simcox: And that changed everything for me. And it was actually a Gideon Bible in the hotel... God blessed the Gideons.
Chris Katulka: That's amazing.
Steve Herzig: Amen.
Lorna Simcox: God bless them.
Mitch Triestman: Chris, does anybody know how to spell Hanukkah?
Chris Katulka: Is it a C-H, is it an H- [crosstalk]?
Steve Herzig: Is it the cha or the ha? [laughter]
Mitch Triestman: If the Jewish people could figure out how to spell Hanukkah, I probably wouldn't have become a Christian. Couldn’t we have figured that out? [laughter]
Chris Katulka: I do want to say this. It's, the amazing thing about Jesus is that, like you said, he's torn down the partition wall. And I think a lot of times that means that the Jewish people now get to become more Gentile. I think that's the way a lot of the church thinks, but it actually radically changed me differently. This morning, when I was driving my kids to school, we live near the Cherry Hill area, a very Jewish community, a big Jewish community in South Jersey. And they had a menorah out for Hanukkah. And I looked at my kids and I said, "You know, Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. And it's so important to know that without the Hanukkah story, there would be no Jesus." And they were all just blown away by this.
So, it wasn't that we're...here at the Friends of Israel, we don't want to rob the Bible of its Jewishness, we actually want to say, "No, Gentiles, non-Jews come to the Jewish Messiah." And that's an amazing concept to think about. To me, that just blows my mind that here we are, and the culture barrier is knocked down. I get to interact with you all on this level because of what Jesus has done.
Steve Herzig: Chris, I could just tell you, you just hit a home run. We all tell, when we go to churches, all of us, Mitch, Lorna, her husband, Tom, you do it. Without Hanukkah, Antiochus would have won.
Lorna Simcox: That's right.
Steve Herzig: And no Jesus.
Chris Katulka: Mm-hmm.
Steve Herzig: That alone, when we say that at a church, I've seen it happen. The congregation jumps up, their eyes get bigger because they never thought of that before.
Chris Katulka: Yeah, it's true. Mitch, I'm interested to know when you go to churches, do you speak about Hanukkah and how do you present the story to Christians about Hanukkah as a Jewish believer?
Mitch Triestman: I have a whole thing, a powerpoint. I think Jesus was a Hanukkah baby. And I think the birthday was moved from the 25th day of the Hebrew month of the Kislev and moved over to December. And I showed things about, when the priests were ministering and all that stuff, the long, involved presentation. But I think Jesus was truly born on Hanukkah.
We know that the bishops moved it away from a Jewish holiday and I try to replicate that. Whether he was or wasn't, it's not the big deal, but I kind of think that that's significant. Why are the Jews celebrating Hanukkah? If it's a celebration and dedication of the temple and the temple is destroyed in ruins, why did they continue to celebrate it? It'd be like, if we lost the independence to England, we've lost the revolution. We would still have the 4th of July, but we wouldn't celebrate our independence when we're not Independent.
Chris Katulka: Yeah.
Mitch Triestman: So why this and it tore me up to ask that, "Why Hanukkah?" So they invented this miracle about the lamp, which is not..it doesn’t even.... It's an impossibility.
Chris Katulka: That's the story where they say there wasn't enough oil for the menorah and God provided it for eight days.
Mitch Triestman: Right. Yeah. I mean like the oil was olive oil. Ton amount of olives! How much trouble you mean.. you can get, shake a tree. I mean, you don't got to go down to Egypt to make a contract with Sun Oil Company or something. It's not a problem to get oil. So anyway, we demythologize Hanukkah, and we try to look at the real dedication of the temple.
On the day that the temple was rededicated, that's the day that God sent the true Temple into the world as a dedication and said, "Destroy this Temple, three days, I'll raise it up." And he spoke of his body and they thought, and he connects that message. Yeah.
Chris Katulka: For sure. One of my favorite parts about the Hanukkah chapter in John chapter 10, is that there's this unique connection that it's the same chapter also beforehand, where Jesus says, "I am the Good Shepherd, I'm going to lead my people. I'm going to," going back to the prophet, Ezekiel, "I'm going to be the One who leads my people, provides for them because the religious leaders were failing miserably. "I'm the Good Shepherd, I will provide." And I think that's exactly what was going on at that time. They were looking at Jesus and they were saying, "All your leaders have led you astray. Follow me, I'm the Messiah, I'm the Savior."
Lorna Simcox: Yes.
Chris Katulka: I can't thank you all enough for being here. I wish we could spend hours and hours talking about this. I'm sure you have stories that..
Mitch Triestman: Shut the radio off. We can sit… [laughter]
Chris Katulka: Thank you very much for being here and Happy Hanukkah.
Lorna Simcox: Happy Hanukkah, Chris.
Mitch Triestman: Thanks, Chris.
Steve Herzig: Thank you, Chris.
Steve Conover: Thank you for joining us today. A quick reminder, if you would like to purchase Lorna Simcox's book, The Search, visit Foiradio.org. Again, that's Foiradio.org, or you can call our number at (888) 343-6940 and someone will return your call during our regular business hours. Again, that's (888) 343-6940 to purchase your copy of The Search. In Canada, call (888) 664-2584, that's (888) 664-2584 in Canada. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry, proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
BY LORNA SIMCOX
This is the poignant, true account of a Jewish woman’s quest to find the ultimate answers about faith, God, and life after death. Once you start reading, you won’t be able to stop! A wonderful book for all who think their good deeds will get them to heaven. You will long remember Lorna’s true story and the heartwarming stops on a journey that brought this Jewish woman to undeniable truth about faith, God, and life after death.
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