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November 28, 2007 > Hanukkah


By Praveena Raman

The Jewish festival of lights will be celebrated for eight days starting Dec 4 this year.
Hanukkah celebrates the rededication (Hanukkah means dedication) of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Jews were victorious in war against the Syrians. As the story goes, under the reign of Alexander the Great, the Jews adopted the Greek language and many of their customs while observing their own religion. However, centuries later, one of Alexander's successors, Antiochus, who ruled Syria, started oppressing the Jews, prohibiting the practice of their religion and rituals, forcing them to worship only Greek gods. It was during this reign that the holy Temple where Jews worshipped was seized and dedicated to Zeus. The people were also ordered to sacrifice pigs, forbidden in Judaism.

Angry Jews formed an army and revolted against the Greeks. Three years after the fighting began, the Jews triumphed and won back the Temple. After the triumph, when Judah Maccabee's soldiers went into the Temple, they found many things broken and damaged including the Golden Menorah. After cleaning and repairing, a grand ceremony was planned to rededicate the Temple. The Maccabees wanted to light the menorah for the ceremony which, by tradition, once lit, had to burn through the night every night. Unfortunately they only found a small container of oil that was not contaminated and had just enough oil to burn for one night. The Macabees needed at least eight days to produce a fresh supply of oil. Then a miracle occurred. The small amount of oil kept the menorah burning for eight nights until fresh oil was available.

Thus the festival of Hanukkah celebrating this miracle started and traditions were born. As per ancient customs, Hanukkah starts with the lighting of the menorah. The Hanukkiah (special Hanukkah menorah) holds nine candles, one for each of the eight nights; a ninth, at a different height called the shamash, is used to light the other candles. Each night a blessing is recited before a candle is lit. As Hanukkah commemorates the miraculous oil, dishes made during these eight days are also made in oil. The most traditional is potato latkes (pancakes) eaten with apple sauce or sour cream (an Eastern European tradition) and Sufganiyot, a jelly doughnut without a hole made in hot oil (an Israeli tradition). A more recent tradition is the gift of small presents by elders to children.

Another tradition during Hanukkah is playing the Dreidel game. Dreidels are a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter painted on each side of the top. The letters are Nun - no win / no lose, Gimmel - take all (from the kitty), Heh - take half (from the kitty), Peh or Shin - lose (what you deposited). Peh is used in Israel and means here while everywhere else the letter Shin meaning here is used.

In Israel the letters stand for "A Great Miracle happened Here) while in all other countries it stands for "A Great Miracle happened There". The game which is also called s'vivon is played with players starting with 10 or 15 pennies, chocolates or matchsticks. Each player places one of these in the middle to form a pot. The Dreidel is spun one player at a time. The face the Dreidel or S'vivon falls on will decide the fate of the player - whether they win or lose according to the letter inscribed there. When only one object or none is left in the pot, every player adds one to the pot and the game continues. If an odd number of objects are left then a player who rolls a Heh will take half the kitty and one more. The game is over when one player wins the whole pot.

Local Hanukkah celebrations:

Temple Beth Sholom
642 Dolores Avenue, San Leandro
(510) 357-8505

Chanukkah, December 4 - 11, 6 p.m., daily menorah lighting on the roof.

Friday, December 7, 6:30 p.m., Chanukkah color-me-in Shabbat Services followed by a prepared meal at 7:15 p.m. Adults- $10; Children over 5 - $5; Under 5 and newcomers are free. RSVP to the office by calling (510) 357-8505.

Sunday, December 9, Sisterhood Latke Brunch.

Temple Beth Torah
42000 Paseo Padre Pkwy, Fremont
(510) 656-7141

Shabbat Dinner & Chanukah Service, Friday, December 7.
6 p.m. Catered Dinner - reservation required by Monday, Dec. 3, respond by email ( or call 510-656-7141. Cost: $12/adult, $10/child (under 13).

7 p.m. Chanukah & Shabbat Service - Students in all Religious School classes, Junior Choir and Oy Carumbas. Bring your Chanukiah (Chanukah menorah) and 5 candles, as we will join together in lighting our menorahs to welcome Chanukah.

Recipe for Potato Latkes

3 medium potatoes
1 small onion
3 tablespoons flour/matzah meal
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of pepper
Oil for frying

The potatoes are scrubbed and grated into a large bowl. Next grate the onion and add flour, eggs, salt and pepper and mix then well. Heaping tablespoons of the mixture are dropped in hot oil, flattened with a spoon and fried on both sides. The latkes are drained on paper towels and served with applesauce or sour cream. This recipe makes about 16-20 pancakes.

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