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Chanukiya Menora
Chanukiya 9 Branched Menora

Chanukah
faith can change the world


Chanukkah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight day festival beginning on the evening of the 24th day of the Jewish month of Kislev (in the evening of Saturday, 24 December 2016, and ending in the evening of Sunday, 1 January 2017). It is probably one of the best known Jewish holidays, because of its proximity to Christmas. Many think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration. It is ironic that this holiday, which has its roots in a revolution against assimilation and the suppression of Jewish religion, has become the most assimilated, secular holiday on the Jewish calendar.

Chanukah (also spelled Chanuka, Hanuka, Hanukka, Hannukah or Hanukkah) is the Jewish Festival of Lights, the Feast of Consecration, or the Feast of the Maccabees.

The story of Chanukah begins in 167 B.C. while Jerusalem was ruled by the Greek Empire. King Antiochus the 4th forced the Jews to reject their religion and to worship the Greek gods instead. As a result, the Jews began a revolt, Judas Macabeus being the leader. Chanukah celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem, after 3 years of fighting against the Greeks (Chanukah in Hebrew means "dedication").

Chanukah also commemorates the miracle of the oil cruse: According to tradition, after cleaning up the temple, the Maccabees found a very small amount of oil, just enough to light the Menorah for one day. Miraculously, the small cruse of oil that was found, lasted for 8 days, which is why the Chanukah celebration lasts 8 days.

Go to Top When is Chanukah celebrated?

The first evening of Chanukah starts after the sunset of the 24th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev (which takes place sometime in December). That is the date in which the Jewish army of Judas Macabeus and his brothers finished cleansing the temple of the Greek sculptures.

Go to Top Chanukah traditions

Every evening during Chanukah it is customary to light an extra candle in the Chanukiyah, a special Chanukah Menorah, in memory of the miraculous oil cruse. This miracle also led to the practice of eating fatty pastries such as "Sufganiot" (fried doughnuts filled with jam) and "Levivot" (potato fritters eaten with powdered sugar).

It is traditional to eat fried foods on Chanukah because of the significance of oil to the holiday. Among Ashkenazic Jews, this usually includes latkes (pronounced "lot-kuhs" or "lot-keys" depending on where your grandmother comes from. Pronounced "potato pancakes" if you are a goy).

Gift-giving is not a traditional part of the holiday, but has been added in places where Jews have a lot of contact with Christians, as a way of dealing with our children's jealousy of their Christian friends. It is extremely unusual for Jews to give Chanukkah gifts to anyone other than their own young children. The only traditional gift of the holiday is "gelt," small amounts of money.

In addition, Chanukah is linked with the custom of children playing a special game with the Chanukah Dreidel.

Go to Top Chanukah Dreidel

One of the best known symbols of Chanukah is the Chanukah Dreidel. A Dreidel is a four sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side.

The four letters are:
  • Nun - Nes - A miracle
  • Gimel - Gadol - Great
  • Hey - Haya - Happened
  • Shin - Sham - There
Together, these letter say - "A Great Miracle Happened There."

In Israel the Dreidel is slightly different, and has one different letter:
  • Nun - Nes - A miracle
  • Gimel - Gadol - Great
  • Hey - Haya - Happened
  • Pey - Po - Here

So in Israel, the letters on the Dreidel say "A Great Miracle Happened Here!" In a certain game children play with chocolate coins, giving or receiving coins according to the letter which appeared facing up when the Chanukah Dreidel stopped spinning. However, most children enjoy spinning tops regardless of chocolate coins that they may or may not receive.

Go to Top Nine Branched Menorah – The Chanukiyah

One of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith is the Menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum (Candlestand) used in the Temple. The Kohanim lit the Menorah in the Sanctuary every evening and cleaned it out every morning, replacing the wicks and putting fresh olive oil into the cups.

The Nine Branched Menorah used during Chanukah, also known as the Chanukiyah, is commonly patterned after this Menorah, because Chanukah commemorates the miracle that a day's worth of oil for this menorah lasted eight days.

The Chanukah Menorah (Chanukiyah) holds nine candles: eight candles, symbolizing the eight days for which there was enough oil after the consecration of the temple, and an extra candle called the "shamash", which is used for lighting the rest of the candles. Chanukah candles may only be used in the Chanukiyah, and may not be used for any other purpuse.

Go to Top Inspired By Faith, We Can Change The World

Twenty-two centuries ago, when Israel was under the rule of the empire of Alexander the Great, one particular leader, Antiochus IV, decided to force the pace of Hellenisation, forbidding Jews to practice their religion and setting up in the Temple in Jerusalem a statue of Zeus Olympus.

This was too much to bear, and a group of Jews, the Maccabees, fought for their religious freedom, winning a stunning victory against the most powerful army of the ancient world. After three years they reconquered Jerusalem, rededicated the Temple and relit the menorah with the one cruse of undefiled oil they found among the wreckage.

It was one of the most stunning military achievements of the ancient world. It was, as we say in our prayers, a victory of the few over the many, the weak over the strong. It’s summed up in wonderful line from the prophet Zechariah: not by might nor by strength but by my spirit says the Lord. The Maccabees had neither might nor strength, neither weapons nor numbers. But they had a double portion of the Jewish spirit that longs for freedom and is prepared to fight for it.

Never believe that a handful of dedicated people can’t change the world. Inspired by faith, they can. The Maccabees did then. So can we today.

–o0o–
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This page was last modified on Sunday, 11 December 2016