A fruitful, creative, and peaceful year 5762 to you and your family!
Happy New Year!
All About Hanukkah
If you don’t celebrate Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, you might not know what it’s all about. Many people think of it as „the Jewish Christmas,“ but the truth is that the two holidays have nothing to do with each other, except that they’re celebrated at roughly the same time of year. Even that isn’t always true, though, because Jewish holidays follow the Jewish calendar, which doesn’t parallel the Gregorian calendar that most Western countries use. Depending on the year, Hanukkah may fall in November or even in January. Like all Jewish holidays, Hanukkah begins at sundown the night before the date usually given on calendars. In 2001, the days of Hanukkah are December 10-December 17, but the first candle is lit after sundown on December 9.
So if it’s not the „Jewish Christmas,“ what is Hanukkah? The Hanukkah story involves a group of warriors lead by Judas Maccabeus (also called Judah Maccabee) in ancient times. King Antiochus IV, who controlled the Middle East at the time, oppressed the Jews and desecrated their Temple, making it unholy. The Maccabees eventually succeeded in a revolt against the king, but his army had already destroyed the Temple. When they retook the Temple, the Jews found only enough oil left to light the menorah –the candelabrum – in the Temple for one night. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight nights, long enough for a new supply of oil to be prepared. The Temple was rededicated, and the Jews celebrated with an eight-day festival. So Hanukkah celebrates the Jews’ retaking of the Temple (the word means „rededication“ in Hebrew) and it also celebrates a miracle.
In religious terms, Hanukkah is not a particularly important holiday. It’s a cultural celebration that’s gained popularity through the years as Christmas materialism has grown. The only religious significance the holiday carries is God’s miracle of helping the small Jewish army defeat a much larger, more powerful army. But for many families, Hanukkah is nonetheless an opportunity to celebrate Jewish heritage and history. We light the menorah, sometimes called the chanukiah (nine-branched lamp) nightly for eight nights, just as the Maccabees and their supporters did in the ancient Temple. We add one more candle each night until the menorah is full. We eat latkes (potato pancakes) fried in oil to commemorate the „miracle,“ sufganiyot (Israeli jelly-filled doughnuts, also cooked in oil) to remind us of God’s sweetness, and dairy foods such as cheese and cream. And we gather with our families and friends in the warmth of the light shed by the menorah, just as our ancestors did long ago. Happy Hanukkah!