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Now living in Portland, Oregon, Wallis Smith-Owens, is looking forward to being back home in Cartersville and celebrating Hanukkah with her mother.

“Since moving to Portland after college, I don’t always get to spend Hanukkah with family,” said 27-year-old Smith-Owens. “The Jewish calendar and the civil calendar don’t always sync up, but fortunately this year Hanukkah starts on Christmas [Eve] night, which means I’ll be home in Georgia. I’m really looking forward to being able to light the menorah in person with my mother.

“... We are not a traditional Jewish family. Since mom and I converted, we are the only two Jews in the entire extended family. We never had the chance to learn from our direct ancestors how to celebrate any of the Jewish holidays. I attended Hebrew school until I had a bat mitzvah at age 13, but I always joke that mom sent me to synagogue to be able to come home and teach her how to be Jewish. I would learn the prayers in Hebrew, then teach them to mom. It is a little backwards from how religion is usually passed down from generation to generation, but it gave me an opportunity to explore Judaism in my own way.”

Referred to as the festival of lights, Hanukkah is an eight-day recognition of the Maccabees reclaiming and rededicating the Temple in Jerusalem. During Hanukkah, Jews traditionally light a menorah, which calls back to the oil in the Temple miraculously providing light for eight days — seven more than expected.

“I grew up as a Methodist but was never very observant,” said Smith-Owens’ mother, Kim Smith. “By chance around 1993, I began to research... Judaism. I had always been interested in religions and felt that my beliefs were so aligned with Judaism. After a lot of study and actual research, I made the decision to convert. I had so much support from [my husband] Tom [Owens] and from the local Jewish community. Tom and I agreed that our daughter, Wallis, who was 4 at the time would also convert since he was not observant of any religion.

“I am honestly not a big holiday celebration type. But I always look forward to Wallis coming home from Portland, Oregon, where she’s lived for the past five years. It’s the only time of the year she makes it back home, and it’s really special because of that.”

She continued, “It was always a bit of a challenge since we did not have Jewish family. But we celebrate with our Jewish friends and still love getting together with our friends at their Christmas functions. I think our funniest memories are of my lack of cooking skills, and when I would send latkes to primary school with Wallis and kids would say, ‘These look like hash brown patties.’ And they were.”