Beginning on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 12, and ending on the evening of Wednesday, Dec. 20, Jewish people all over the world will be celebrating Hanukah.
Hanukah, also known as the Jewish Festival of Lights, lasts eight days.
Jews celebrate Hanukah to commemorate the Miracle of the Oil.
According to the story of Hanukah, several thousand years ago, the Jewish people living in the Roman province of Judea fought the Greeks, who wanted the Jewish people to worship Greek gods. The Greeks had defiled the Jerusalem temple.
The Jews won the battle against the Greeks, and to celebrate, they lit an oil lamp. However, they were able to find only enough oil to keep the lamp burning for one night.
Something magical happened and the lamp stayed lit for eight days.
To celebrate this miracle, Jews now celebrate Hanukah for eight days every year.
Hanukah is celebrated by lighting a menorah (a nine-branched ceremonial lamp). Jews add one additional candle for each of the eight days. Typically, Jewish people recite blessings while they light the candle on the menorah, which is lit from left to right.
Hanukah lights are typically lit at sundown. The menorah is usually placed in a visible location so it can be seen from the outside.
During Hanukah, Jewish people eat foods typically fried in oil, such as latkes, which are potato pancakes.
Also, children in Jewish families play traditional games, such as dreidel, which is a four-sided spinning top with Hebrew letters on it.
According to Rabbi Rachel Bearman of Temple B’nai Chaim in Redding, Hanukah is a beautiful holiday that celebrates religious freedom.
“The light that we create with our menorahs symbolizes the light of freedom and reminds us of our responsibility to work hard so that all people can enjoy freedom of belief,” Bearman said.
Bearman explained that celebrating Hanukah allows Jewish families to “retell the story of a small group of dedicated Jewish people who clung to their religious and cultural identities, even in the face of their enemies’ overwhelming military might,” she said. “The hero of the Hanukah story, Judah Maccabee, fought bravely to ensure that the Jewish people would be able to worship safely. The light that we create with our menorahs symbolizes the light of religious freedom and reminds us of our responsibility to work hard so that all people can enjoy freedom of belief.”
Redding resident Nancy Cavillones said that on the first night of Hanukah, she makes brisket and latkes. “Gifts are a book for each kid, and a board game for the family,” she said.
She is president of the Sisterhood of her temple, Congregation Shir Shalom of Westchester and Fairfield counties, in Ridgefield. “We have a Hanukah dinner every year for our members,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun, and we do a raffle of eight different gifts for charity.”
Cavillones said that although Hanukah is a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, “and certainly not the ‘Jewish Christmas,’ it is a worthy commemoration that celebrates a triumph over evil.”