The eight-day holiday of Hanukkah, also known as the festival of lights, begins at sundown on Friday evening, December 15, this year. Jewish families throughout the world will commence the observance with the kindling of the first candle on a special nine – branch candelabra known in Hebrew as the Channukiah.
The origin of Hanukkah, which literally means rededicating, goes back to the 6th century when a small group of Jewish freedom fighters stood against the intolerance of the Seleucid Greeks during the reign of Antiochus. Jewish worship was prohibited and the ancient Holy Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated. While Hanukkah marks the first battle for religious freedom in recorded history, it was also a battle of differing world views; Hebraism versus Hellenism. Many Judeans had been strongly influenced by Greek culture and practices and had abandoned their ancestral ways. The ensuing battle was also a struggle to restore traditional Jewish practices to a place of importance.
The band of fighters called Macabees were victorious and routed the Seleucids from Jerusalem. Upon entering the Holy Temple they at once began to cleanse, restore, and rededicate it to the worship of G-d. According to the legend, only one small cruse of pure olive oil could be found to kindle the golden candelabrum. Miraculously it lasted for eight nights, hence the eight- night observance of the holiday with a candle lighting ceremony adding one candle each night.
The custom of eating foods cooked in oil to recall the miracle of oil is reflected in fried potato pancakes (latkes) of eastern European Jewry and the fried doughnuts (levivot) of Sephardic and Israeli Jews. Gifts are exchanged and holiday songs and cheer fill the home as a game of spinning tops (dreidels) is played. The letters on the top correspond to the phrase, “A great miracle happened there.” The miracles of survival and family are not to be overlooked and are worthy of rededication each year of our lives.