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December 12, 2006 > Jewish Festival of Lights

Jewish Festival of Lights

by Linda Stone

Hanukkah, also known as the Jewish Festival of Lights, commemorates the victory of the Jews over the Hellenistic Syrians, led by Antiochus, the Greek king of Syria, in the year 165 B.C.E. and the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple. The Hebrew name Hanukkah means “dedication.”

Judah Maccabbee and his rebel forces restored the temple after its desecration by the Greek soldiers. When they prepared to consecrate the temple by lighting the menorah, a holy lamp used in temple services, they were unable to find enough oil to light the lamp. In searching for oil, they came upon one single bottle in a temple chamber. The small amount of oil that normally would be enough for one night, lasted eight nights instead. This miracle plays a significant role in Hanukkah and is observed by lighting a chanukiah or special menorah that has eight central candles and one larger candle called a shamash. Each night a smaller candle is lit by the shamash.

Traditionally, gift-giving is not part of the ceremonies, but this has grown more common amongst Jews whose children are exposed to Christmas observances. Even so, it is unusual for Jews to give gifts to anyone except their own, young children. And then, only traditional gift is “gelt,” small amounts of money. Families prepare special foods fried in oil, like latkes (fried potato pancakes) and sufganiot, which are fried jelly donuts. A game called “dreidel,” is played with a four-sided top. Each side contains a letter representing the first letter of the words spelling out, “A great miracle happened here." Special songs and prayers are also recited during the eight days. This year Hanukkah is celebrated December 16 - 23.

For information on Hanukkah services, contact Temple Beth Torah in Fremont at (510) 656-7141.

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