Family, freedom and miracles. These are the important traits that are celebrated during the observance of Hanukkah.
In ancient times, the land of Judea was ruled by a group of Syrian-Greeks known as the Seleucids. After attempts were made by the Seleucids to have the Jewish people reject their customs and beliefs, a small group of Jewish warriors led by Judah Maccabee fought back against the armies and were able to successfully drive them from the land.
During the reign of the Seleucids, the temple had been desecrated with pagan symbols, which were removed by the Jews in an attempt to cleanse the temple and rededicate it to God. But when the menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum, was to be lit during the temple’s cleansing, the Jews discovered they only had enough oil to burn for one day.
Despite this, the menorah was lit and miraculously burned for eight days.
For Jews across the world, the flicker of the candles that burn during the time of Hanukkah serve as a reminder of that miracle that took place in the ancient world.
While Hanukkah is certainly a popular holiday celebrated by Jewish people, the holiday itself is considered to be a fairly minor one compared to the High Holidays, like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, both of which have their basis in scripture.
Commonly known as “The Festival of Lights,” Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar. This year, Hanukkah begins on Tuesday.
Though it has no relation to Christmas, Hanukkah tends to overlap with the holiday, however, it can sometimes be celebrated much earlier based on the lunar cycle the Hebrew calendar follows.
Since the holiday isn’t based in Hebrew scripture, the religious aspect of Hanukkah is fairly light. The lighting of the nine-branched menorah followed by the reciting of special prayers are really the only religious aspects related to the holiday.
Beginning on the first night, one candle is placed at the far right of the menorah. The central candle, known as the shammus, is lit and used to light the first candle placed on the menorah. Each night, another candle is added from right to left and lit using the shammus until all eight candles have been placed.
While the Hanukkah customs differ from household to household, many families celebrate the holiday by giving gifts each day, eating fried foods — particularly potato latkes — and playing dreidel, a gambling game played with a special top.
Merle and Chuck Yalowitz, a local Jewish couple, made a tradition of giving their three sons small gifts throughout Hanukkah, until the final night when they would give their children one big gift.
For many families, the time of Hanukkah is also a way to pass on Jewish traditions to younger generations, such as the importance of lighting the candles on the menorah — something that made an impression on Chuck Yalowitz when he was growing up.
“The lights are kind of an impression just by themselves. You’d see the lights every night getting a little bit brighter and brighter,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to pass on tradition.”