What is Chanukah? Chanukah is a Jewish holiday, that falls sometime in early winter and in rare cases late fall, like last year. But what exactly is Chanukah, why is it celebrated?
Chanukah, an eight day holiday, takes place on the 25th of the Jewish month Kislev. Since the Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle, Kislev is usually in December. Chanukah starts at sundown, so on Tuesday December 16, 2014 Chanukah will start.
On Chanukah, Jews celebrate what is commonly referred to as the “Miracle of Chanukah”. Years ago, King Antiocius of the Greeks invaded Israel, destroying their temple and demanding that every Jew convert so they worshipped the same idols as he did. However, a brave Jew known as Judah Maccabee and his family refused, standing up against the Greeks. It was only after driving the Greeks out, when the Jews were clearing out the destroyed temple did they find and repair the menorah. The menorah was a symbol of the temples, and it was custom to light them every day. However, they were only able to scavenge enough oil for one day, it would take too long to make more oil. But the oil miraculously lasted not one, but eight days until the Jews were able to make more.
So every year on Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, Jews commemorate the miracle by lighting their own nine branched menorah, known as a Chanukia. While many do not know this, synagogues usually used the seven branches as a candelabra on any other night. Traditionally, Jews used oil, but many people use candles instead. Jew’s also have an excuse to eat donuts and latkes (potato pancakes) because they are cooked in oil, and play dreidel. The dreidel game originates back to when the Jews were forbidden to read their torahs, they would secretly read from them and if a Greek soldier suspected anything, they would hide the torahs and pull out the dreidels pretending to be gambling. Also, it isn’t customary to hand out gifts on Chanukah, in Israel, children don’t receive gifts like in the United States.
Many synagogues hold special events for Chanukah, this year Temple Beth Shalom built a large Chanukah menorah out of Legos. They were able to get help from an architect and built the menorah so they were actually able to light it. Congregation Mishkan Israel does a torch run from East Rock to the synagogue on the nearest Sunday to Chanukah when Hebrew school is in session. Participants range from students who attend Hebrew school to older adults such as the Rabbi, who either run or bike, carrying a torch lamp which is used to light a menorah at an assembly.