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Celebrating Hanukkah with a U.S. Navy Family

Celebrating Hanukkah with a U.S. Navy Family

By Dannielle Niewald

With more than 1.4 million Active-Duty Service Members, the military represents a diverse population of cultures, beliefs, and traditions – each Service Member and his or her family celebrating the holiday season in uniquely different ways. As our Jewish Navy Families celebrate Hanukkah this week, we sat down with Commander Alexa Jenkins to talk about her Jewish faith growing up and how it has impacted her life and as a Navy Family. Commander Jenkins is currently serving as an Executive Officer aboard a guided-missile destroyer. Her spouse, Rod is a former Naval Surface Warfare Officer as well and they live together with their son in Jacksonville, Florida. She is scheduled to become the first Female Commanding Officer of the USS CARNEY DDG-64 in mid-2022.

Can you give us a brief history or a favorite memory of growing up celebrating Hanukkah and what it means to your family?

Hanukkah is a smaller holiday for Jewish families than Christmas is for Christian families. The gist of the holiday is that after a battle, the temple was raided. There was only enough oil to light for one night, but miraculously it lasted for eight days. In Israel, they don’t even celebrate the holiday with gifts. We do gifts in my family but focus on small gifts rather than large extravagant ones. I share a love of puzzles with my Dad, and he was amazing at finding eight different types of puzzles/brain teasers each year that we could try to solve together. (Well, I am sure my mom helped him.) It gave us all something to figure out as a family. (And in the age before streaming television shows, that was what people did with their nights.) My mom made sure that we always lit the candles and sang the blessing together. Hanukkah means celebrating the miracle of light and oil: but I always think of it as “it shouldn’t have worked, but it did.” It is a powerful message as a military family to remain flexible and be thankful for the things that work out against all odds.

How do you celebrate Hanukkah with your family now? Do you have a favorite tradition that you look forward to?

Now we celebrate much in the same way, but my son is too young to really know why he gets small treats/presents each night, but he still enjoys the surprise. We all light the candles at sunset and sing the blessing, sometimes via zoom with my parents.

Are there any special food dishes that you prepare or look forward to having during this time of celebration?

Since everything about this holiday celebrates oil, most of the foods are fried in some manner: latkes (fried potatoes) or donuts are personal favorite

How does being a Jewish Family in the Navy impact the way you celebrate or the traditions you observe?

As with most other family traditions, being in the Navy means that we might not get to celebrate in person with each other. I have been blessed to be in ships with inclusive wardrooms and crews that have made celebrating away from home easier. I would still light the candles (under close supervision) underway, and my culinary specialists have always taken recipes from my family and made them a part of the crew’s dinner. We did latkes on CARNEY last year. I love sharing my culture with my shipmates—it makes it feel that much more like home, even when I’m far away.

We are so appreciative of the culture and diversity that our Sailors and their families bring to the U.S. Navy, giving each of us an opportunity to learn more about different traditions and beliefs. Thank you to Commander Jenkins and her family for their service to their Country, the U.S. Navy, their shipmates, family, and friends. To our Jewish Navy families and friends, we wish you a very Happy Hanukkah!

#byspousesforspouses #nsfamilyline #happyhanukkah #milspouse #militaryfamilies

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