Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles’ first elected Jewish mayor, will participate in today’s 29th annual City Hall menorah-lighting ceremony.
Hanukkah, the eight-day commemoration of the temple rededication that followed the Maccabees’ triumph over a larger Syrian army in 165 B.C., begins at sundown Tuesday.
Once the Jews defeated the Hellenist Syrian forces of Antiochus IV at the end of a three-year rebellion, the temple in Jerusalem, which the occupiers had dedicated to the worship of Zeus, was rededicated by
Judah Maccabee, who led the insurgency begun by his father, the high priest Mattathias.
According to the story of Hanukkah, Maccabee and his soldiers wanted to light the temple’s ceremonial lamp with ritually pure olive oil as part of their rededication but found only enough oil to burn for one day. The oil, however, burned for eight days in what was held to be a miracle.
Hanukkah — which means dedication in Hebrew — is observed around the world by lighting candles in a special menorah called a Hanukiah each day at sundown for eight days, with an additional candle added each day. The reason for the lights is so passers-by should see them and be reminded of the holiday’s miracle.
Other Hanukkah traditions include spinning a dreidel, a four-sided top, which partially commemorates a game that Jews under Greek domination played to camouflage their Torah study, and eating foods fried in oil, such as potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts.
Children receive Hanukkah ”gelt” (the Yiddish word for money) from parents and grandparents. The tradition originated with 17th century Polish Jews giving money to their children to give their teachers during Hanukkah, which led to parents also giving children money.
In the United States, the practice has evolved into giving holiday gifts to children and others, akin to Christmas gift-giving.
Unlike on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, or Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, observant Jews are permitted to work and attend school during Hanukkah, the only Jewish holiday that commemorates amilitary victory.