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December 16, 2011 > Hanukkah lights reflect miracles, faith, and freedom

Hanukkah lights reflect miracles, faith, and freedom

By Julie Grabowski

On the evening of December 20, the first candle of the menorah will be lit, beginning the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah (also Chanukah). The steady flame calls to mind miracles past and freedom won; the triumph of the Jewish spirit in the face of oppression.

In 168 B.C. the Holy Land was under the rule of the Syrian-Greeks, who outlawed the Jewish faith and ordered the people to worship Greek gods. Soldiers took over the Jewish Temple and used it to worship Zeus, angering the Jews and inciting them to revolt. Judah Maccabee led small groups of Jews against the powerful Greek army and defeated them, allowing the Maccabees to reclaim their land and the Temple.

Finding the Temple defiled and in ruin, the Maccabees sought to purify it by lighting the menorah. But they found that only a one-day supply of uncontaminated olive oil remained. Eight days were required to prepare new oil in keeping with ritual purity. They lit the menorah anyway, and the single portion miraculously lasted eight days until the new oil was ready.

The word Hanukkah means "dedication" in Hebrew and reflects the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration marked daily by the lighting of the menorah. The menorah, or Hanukkiah, is a multi-branched candelabrum that holds eight candles, plus an additional holder for the shamash, the candle used to light the others. A candle is lit each evening, followed by the singing of the traditional prayer "Haneirot Halalu":

Hanerot halalu anachnu madlikin
Al hanissim ve'al haniflaot
Al hatshu-ot ve'al hamilchamot
She-asita la'avoteynu
Bayamim hahem, bazman hazeh
Al yedey kohanecha hakdoshim.

Vechol shmonat yemey Chanukah
Hanerot halalu kodesh hem,
Ve-ein lanu reshut lehishtamesh bahem
Ela lirotam bilvad
Kedai lehodot leshimcha
Al nissecha veal nifleotecha ve-al yeshuotecha.

We light these lights
For the miracles and the wonders,
For the redemption and the battles
That you made for our forefathers
In those days at this season,
Through your holy priests.

During all eight days of Chanukah
These lights are sacred
And we are not permitted to make
Ordinary use of them,
But only to look at them;
In order to express thanks
And praise to Your great Name
For your miracles, Your wonders
And your salvations.

Like every other holiday, food plays a large role. Latkes (potato pancakes), fried sufgoniyot (jelly doughnuts), loukoumades (deep-fired honey puffs), and cheese gelt coins (cheddar cheese crackers) are among the traditional treats; the preparing of fried foods is significant because of the miracle of the oil.

Dancing the Horah, giving gelt (money) to children, and playing dreidel are also among the festivities. The dreidel is a four-sided top marked with four Hebrew letters - nun, gimmel, heh, and shin - that are an acronym for "Nes Gadol Hayah Sham," meaning a great miracle happened there. A popular song titled "I Have A Little Dreidel" was penned about the game:

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it's dry and ready
Then dreidel I shall play!

Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it's dry and ready
Then dreidel I shall play!

It has a lovely body
With legs so short and thin
And when my dreidel's tired
It drops and then I win!

Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it's dry and ready
Then dreidel I shall play

My dreidel's always playful
It loves to dance and spin
A happy game of dreidel
Come play now, let's begin!

Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it's dry and ready
Then dreidel I shall play.

Hanukkah is a joyous time of remembrance and celebration of faith, freedom, and the indomitable human spirit. And though the holiday comes to an end at sunset on Wednesday, December 28, its light and spirit carries on, as illustrated by Chayim B. Alevsky's "Banu Choshech":

Banu cho-she-ch leh-ga-rehsh
Beya-deinu ohr va'esh
Kol echad hu ohr katan
V'chu-lanu ohr eitan
Surah cho-shech hal-ah sh'chor
Surah mipnei haor

Though the night is cold and dark
In our soul, there lies a spark.
Each of us, is one small light
All together, we shine bright.
Do a Mitzvah (good deed) - light your spark.
Let your glow shine through the dark.
Do a Mitzvah - light your spark.
Let your soul shine through the dark.

Gan Sameach Chanukah Party
Erev Chanukah
Tuesday, December 20
7 p.m.
Shabbat and Chanukah Service
Friday, December 23
7 p.m.
Temple Beth Torah
42000 Paseo Padre Pkwy., Fremont
(510) 656-7141

Menorah lit on rooftop each night
Tuesday, December 20 - 27
6 p.m.
Chanukah Celebration, with dreidel tournament, board games, latkes, candle lighting and movie
Monday, December 26
4:30 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Temple Beth Sholom
642 Dolores Ave., San Leandro
(510) 357-8505

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