Chanukah. Festival of Lights and Miracles
Chanukah is a Jewish holiday celebrated for eight days and nights. It commemorates the rededication of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem following the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greeks. The holiday is celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting and special prayers.
The story of Chanukah
In ancient times Judea (the Land of Israel) was ruled by the Syrian Greek king Antiochus, who prohibited Jews from offering sacrifices at the Temple or studying Torah, and worship the Greek gods instead.
In 168 B.C., his soldiers descended upon Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people and desecrating the city’s holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls.
Led by the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons, a large-scale rebellion broke out against Antiochus. When Mattathias died, his son Judah, known as Judah Maccabee, took the helm; within two years the Jews had successfully driven the Syrians out of Jerusalem. Judah called on his followers to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah
The Chanukah miracle
Judah Maccabee and the Jews who took part in the rededication of the Second Temple searched and found only enough olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for one night, and yet it burned for eight.
Chag Sameach, Happy holiday!
HOW DO WE CELEBRATE CHANUKAH?
Chanukah is celebrated for eight days with several Customs and rituals
The celebration of Chanukah centers around the lighting of the Chanukia, a special menorah for Chanukah. The menorah refers to the nine-branched ceremonial lamp in which the Chanukah candles are placed and blessed each night of the holiday. On each of the holiday’s eight nights, another candle is added to the menorah after sundown; the ninth candle called the Shamash (“helper”), is used to light the others.
It is customary to display the menorah near a window as a reminder to others of the miracle that inspired the holiday.
Dreidel is a spinning top, with four sides, each marked with a different Hebrew letter: Nun, gimmel, hey, and shin announce: Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, “A great miracle happened there.”
In Israel, the fourth side of most dreidels is inscribed with the letter (Pei פ) instead, Nes Gadol Hayah Poh, "A great miracle happened here", referring to the miracle occurring in the Land of Israel.
Chanukah gelt (the Yiddish word for "money") refers to either money given as a gift on Hanukkah, or more commonly today, to a coin-shaped piece of chocolate. Usually, the chocolate coin is wrapped in gold or silver foil and given to children in small bags on Chanukah.
Chanukah's food traditions
Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days.
Fried foods like potato pancakes (latkas in Yiddish and levivot in Hebrew) and doughnuts (sufganiyot in Hebrew) are traditional Chanukah treats because they are cooked in oil and remind us of the miracle of the holiday.
Before lightening the candles of the Menorah, is it customary to say the blessings:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר חֲנֻכָּה
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tsivanu l'hadlik ner shel Hanukkah
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, she-asah nisim laavoteinu v'imoteinu bayamim hahaeim baz'man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in days of old at this season.