Nov 30, 2018
Hanukkah is upon us, and while the Jewish history is filled with gloomy cases of persecution and near extinction… what a merry and delightful codename for a holiday is that “festival of lights” that accompanies Hanukkah, don’t you agree?
Taking place during 8 days, Hanukkah is a Hebrew word for dedication and correctly observing it takes exactly that attribute. On each day, one candle is lighted. The menorah (a large candelabrum) holds 9 flames. One of them is the shamash (Hebrew for “attendant”) which is used to kindle the other eight lights and is usually held at a distinct position in the menorah (usually between and above the eight candles). On the first night, only one is lit. On the second day, another one. And so on and so forth until all 8 flames are kindled.
But you don’t just go there and light them like it’s nothing. There are special prayers and blessings recited – often to a traditional melody – and traditional songs are sung after the candles are lit. The menorah, then, is displayed by the window or the doorway so that people see that, despite all, the Jewish tradition and culture is very much alive and, in that house, lives proud Jewish people. Nice, right?
Real Estate tip: just watch out with all those flames, ok? Fire & Lightning damage is the 3rd most common homeowners insurance claim and by far the most expensive one; you do not want to turn the sacred festival of lights into the festival of fire!
The whole history behind Hanukkah goes a little bit like this: when Judea was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), Jewish people were forced to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and Jewish beliefs. But they refused to do so and, one day, a miracle occurred: against all odds, a small pack of Jews led by Judah the Maccabee, rebelled against the mighty Seleucid army and drove them off their land, reclaiming Jerusalem’s Second Temple. When they went to light the temple’s menorah, they noticed they had only one single cruse of olive oil that had escaped the Greek contamination and was still had the seal of the kohen gadol (high priest) that was needed for the menorah. Although that little flask should only last a day, it burned for eight days straight, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil for the menorah. Because of that, the holiday is celebrated for 8 days.
And because of that, because the miracle involved oil, the customary Hanukkah food is usually fried in oil. Fried Potato latke (a sort of pancake, usually garnished with applesauce or sour cream) is a big Hanukkah food hit especially in Eastern Europe. In Israel, the favorite Hanukkah food is the Sufganya, a sort of donut filled with jelly.
The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top bearing some Hebrew letters and its customary for kids to play with it during Hanukkah. The idea here is putting the dreidel to spin. When the dreidel stops spinning, the face that stops facing up decides if the player has lost or won the Hanukkah Gelt – or gifts of money - usually a pot of chocolate coins, nuts or other things decided by the players. Gelts can also literally be coins or gifts given as a reward for the child’s positive behavior and devotion to the study of the Torah, and, what’s really nice, is that their parents usually give them but only as an opportunity to give tzedakah which is something like “charity”. It teaches them the importance of giving back and sharing.
Lately, especially in the western civilization, Jewish people have been giving a gift to their child as the last candle is lit. Check our advice on how to give gifts we can ensure it won’t be regifted - the poor kid almost dies in anticipation lighting all 8 candles and in the end gets a fruitcake? No no.
But the biggest Hanukkah tradition is to remember the miracle of Judah and pass on the message of never being afraid to stand up for your beliefs, never being ashamed to show who you are. A little light amidst the dark goes a long way for like-minded people to see they are not alone, and the menorah shows us that. Take it to the streets and show how proud you are of who you are!