Hanukkah and Burn Injuries

Christmas is just a week away, and the fact that this big day is approaching is clear based on the number of homes with colorful lights strung along their roof tops. However, Christmas lights aren’t the only ones that grace Nevada households during the month of December. While the exact date varies from year to year, the evening of December 22 marks the first day of Hanukkah this year. Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday – more of a cultural phenomenon than a traditionally religious one – and its observance throughout Nevada reveals the often-overlooked fact that Nevada is one of the country’s leading enclaves of Jews in America. As this article explores, one unexpected result of this convergence is an increased risk of burn injuries in Nevada.

Some Background

“There were no Jews in Nevada until there was a Las Vegas.” The quotation is attributed to an unnamed rabbi from Southern California whose remark was more pithy than accurate. [1] While it is true that Nevada is among the top 10 states in terms of the percentage of Jews in the population, [2] the history of Jews in Nevada goes back well beyond the founding of Las Vegas in 1905. According to one historian, nearly 90 percent of Jews in Nevada reside in Las Vegas. [3]

Hanukkah is celebrated for eight consecutive nights, meaning that it will overlap with Christmas in 2019. Also known as the “celebration of lights,” Hanukkah is a time to remember the miraculous overthrow of the Syrian Greeks by the Jews in that region, the rededication of their ransacked temple, and the fact that a single bottle of oil lasted eight days, instead of single day it was expected to last. [4] It’s a festive occasion, but it is also one that involves fire; those who observe the holiday with inadequate caution are prone to suffer (or cause) Las Vegas burn injuries.

Candle Safety on Hanukkah

Many Nevadans celebrate Hanukkah in their homes each year. The defining act of the Hanukkah is the lighting of the hanukkayah, commonly referred to as a menorah. A menorah is a candle holder with nine branches. Some hold colorful candles, while others are designed to hold tiny cups of oil with wicks in them. Either way, On the first night of Hanukkah, two candles are lit. One represents the first night of the celebration, and the other is used to light it before being placed in the center of the menorah. With each subsequent night of Hanukkah, another candle is added to the menorah, until the entire menorah is full on the last night. Families say a blessing each night as they light the candles, and presents are exchanged. [5]

As with any celebration that involves the lighting of candles, safety is a major concern on Hanukkah. Any unguarded flame can lead to a house fire in seconds, and on the last night of Hanukkah that’s nine possible accidents burning in one menorah. In order to avoid Las Vegas burn injuries on Hanukkah, while still enjoying the ceremonial candle-lighting, follow some simple guidelines:

  • Never leave a menorah unattended
  • Place your menorah on a sturdy, non-flammable surface
  • Keep menorahs away from pets and out of the reach of small children
  • Never walk around while holding a lit menorah
  • Supervise children closely if you plan to let them light the menorah
  • Keep decorations, especially paper and fabric, away from the menorah
  • Don’t light a home-made menorah unless you are sure it’s safe [6]

Grease Fire

Grease Fires and Kitchen Accidents

Hanukkah is best known for the tradition of lighting the menorah, but there are other dangerous traditions associated with the holiday. For example, because the holiday celebrates a bottle of oil that lasted for eight nights, many Nevadans celebrate the holiday by cooking food in hot oil. Traditional treats include deep-fried donuts and latkes, which are potato pancakes akin to hash browns that are served with ketchup or applesauce and sour cream. Oil is known for creating two things in a kitchen environment: tasty food and grease fires.

If you plan to cook latkes or other traditional fried treats for Hanukkah, don’t be an “amoretz” and start a grease fire in your kitchen or injure your guests with hot oil. [7] Cooking with oil can be perfectly safe if you follow a few simple rules.

  • Don’t overfill your pan with oil
  • Make sure the oil doesn’t get too hot, and use a thermometer to check the temperature
  • Keep pan handles facing the inside of the stove to avoid knocking them off
  • Check to make sure fire and carbon monoxide detectors are working and their batteries are fresh
  • Always keep small children at least 3 feet from the stove
  • Keep flammable materials away from the stove, including hair and shirt sleeves
  • If a grease fire starts, do not try to extinguish it with water (extinguish grease fires using a pot lid or baking pan to smother the flames)
  • Dispose properly of oil after frying [8]

If, despite taking reasonable precautions, you do experience a burn injury while celebrating Hanukkah, don’t panic. First, address the cause of the burn. Put out the fire or stop the person from contacting the hot oil. If the victim or his/her clothing is still on fire, help them to stop, drop, and roll to smother the flames. Remove hot or burned clothing (if it sticks to the skin, cut or tear around the stuck area). Remove any constrictive clothing, as burned areas can swell quickly. Call 911 if the burn penetrates all layers of skin, the skin is leather or charred looking, or the victim is an infant or senior. If the burn is not serious, treat it with cool running water, cover it with a sterile bandage or cloth, and use over-the-counter pain relievers. If there are signs of infection or excessive blistering, seek medical help. [9]

[1] https://forward.com/opinion/163385/nevada-jews-swing-like-the-state

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Jews#Significant_Jewish_population_centers

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hanukkah-at-home

[5] Ibid.

[6] https://www.kveller.com/know-these-hanukkah-fire-safety-tips-before-you-light-the-menorah

[7] https://thoughtcatalog.com/nico-lang/2013/10/61-hilarious-yiddish-insults-you-need-to-know

[8] https://www.kveller.com/know-these-hanukkah-fire-safety-tips-before-you-light-the-menorah

[9] https://www.webmd.com/first-aid/thermal-heat-or-fire-burns-treatment#1

Image Credit: State Farm via Flickr

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