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Grangeville family embraces Hanukkah: Observers of Judaism may be minority, but Ellissa Crowl feels love, acceptance in town

Ellissa Crowl was busy baking challah during Hanukkah week at her home Tuesday, Dec. 8.

Photo by Lorie Palmer
Ellissa Crowl was busy baking challah during Hanukkah week at her home Tuesday, Dec. 8.

— When it seems everyone in Idaho County is putting up Christmas lights, singing carols about Jesus and buying Christmas presents, it’s sometimes easy to overlook other beliefs.

For the Crowl family of Grangeville, observers of Judaism, Hanukkah began Dec. 6 and will end the evening of Dec. 14.

The Crowls moved to Grangeville almost two years ago when Brian began work at North Idaho Correctional Institution in Cottonwood. Their family also includes mom, Ellissa; son, Camden, 12, and daughters, Adelaide, 9; Hallie, 7, and Caoimhe, 5.

“Primarily, we identify as Reform Jews, but there are aspects of Conservative and Orthodox Judaism that we observe,” Ellissa explained. “I think our practice is aptly summed up by Jewish scholar Jabob Rader Marcus when he said, ‘There are six million Jews in America and six million Judaisms.’”

Elissa explained many of her family’s customs and rituals are dictated by the Jewish calendar, “which has a decidedly different flow to it than the Gregorian calendar,” she said.

“We obviously have different holidays, such as Sukkot, or the Feast of Booths, where we give thanks for the fall harvest, and our timing is different for others,” she said.

For instance, her New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, takes place during the seventh month of the year, which is equivalent to September/ October.

What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah: A Jewish festival lasting eight days, celebrated from the 25th day of the month of Kislev to the 2nd of Tevet in commemoration of the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees following their victory over the Syrians under Antiochus IV, characterized chiefly by the lighting of the menorah on each night of the festival. Also, Chanukah. Also called Feast of Dedication, Feast of Lights. (

Ways to celebrate Hanukkah include reciting blessings, eating special foods including those cooked in oil, using the holiday to discuss beliefs and ways to stand up for those beliefs, give small gifts during each night of Hanukkah, play dreidel (a small, four-sided top) and light a menorah (a type of candelabra).

“But one of the biggest differences is how the average week flows: our Sabbath is observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening and is one of the most important observances,” Ellissa stated.

Shabbat is a day of rest, so the Crowls refrain from working and a myriad of other things, “but it is also a day of many delights: we invite people into our home, we eat incredible food, drink wine, play games, honor family time, and focus on being joyful. In many respects, Shabbat is like any other day of rest and worship celebrated by other faiths in other places,” Ellissa emphasized.

The Crowls, who moved to Idaho County from Boise, have lived in areas where synagogues are located.

“Being able to attend and participate in the Jewish community nurtures me in a way that cannot be duplicated; however, observance and holiness are not limited to temples or synagogues,” she said. “Our home is considered a mikdash me’at, or small temple, where we honor God, study Torah, and teach our children about our faith through our traditions and observances.”

Initially, Ellissa said she was concerned that moving to this area would be difficult.

“But my fears were allayed immediately. At Grangeville Elementary Middle School, Mrs. Dame extended an invitation for me to come to the school and teach the class about challah, the traditional bread we make for Shabbat,” Ellissa recalled. “And my very first neighbor, Bridgett Barela, extended such kindness and friendship that I never had the chance to feel like much of an outsider, and the inclusion just grew from there.”

Ellissa explained she doesn’t get lonely for fellow believers because the town is “full of people who share my beliefs in loving kindness, acceptance and hospitality,” she said. “I don’t think we could have found a better home to be different yet still so welcomed.”

The prevalence of Christmas and related activities can be tricky to navigate with young children, Ellissa admitted, but it also provides many teachable moments as parents.

“Christmastime provides the perfect opportunity to discuss what we believe while also teaching our children to honor the beliefs and beauty of this time of year for our friends and neighbors. It’s a great time to encourage curiosity and finding common ground,” she explained. “We invite friends over for Hanukkah festivities, but also look forward to taking our children to the tree lighting in the park — during both occasions you look around and just feel the happiness and sense of togetherness and that, for me, is what matters most.”

Ellissa said she encounters a lot of genuine questions and support which gives me a “wonderful feeling. “

“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the power of food as it relates to our experience here,” she smiled. “The challah I make each week has proved to be an incredible ice breaker. Bread obviously provides physical sustenance, but it has proven to sustain so much more than that; it has been the literal and figurative food of friendships here, and I am grateful to the many people in town who participate in that nourishment exchange with me.”


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