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Chanukah 101

The Story

The story of Chanukah celebrates the Jewish people and honors their struggle to restore the ancient Temple of Jerusalem.  During this time, Judea was ruled by the Syrian King Antiochus.  He declared that all Jews must worship Greek gods.  The Jews were outraged and would not abandon their *G-d and decided to defend their beliefs.

A man named Judah Maccabee gathered a group of people together to fight the King.  This group grew quickly and soon they had an army.  For three years they fought the Syrians and one control of Judea.

When the battle was over, there was a lot of work to do.  They replaced all Greek symbols with Jewish symbols and restored the Temple of Jerusalem.  On the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, the Temple was completed.  To celebrate their victory and the restoration of the Temple, Judah and his people lit an oil lamp.  Although they only had a small amount of oil for one day, the lamp burned for eight days.

Today, Jews around the world celebrate eight nights of Chanukah beginning on the 25th day of Kislev (the days vary in Western calendars).   To honor the miracle of this incredible event, Jews around the world celebrate Chanukah, calling it the “Festival of Lights.”

The Party

Light the Menorah:   A menorah with 9 branches for candles (technically, it’s called a “chanukkia“).   Eight of the branches represent each night of Chanukah, and the last branch (different height of the others) is the “shamash” or helper candle.   At sundown, the shamash is lit and then is used to light a candle for each night.  By the eighth night, all candles shine beautifully.

Exchange Gifts:  Modern Chanukah is often celebrated by exchanging gifts with family and friends.  Sometimes, small gifts of money, called gelt, are given to children.  Chocolate coins are also given during the holiday.

Eat Food Fried in Oil:  To celebrate the oil lasting eight nights, we cook food fried in oil.  The most popular Chanukah treat is potato latkes (shredded potatoes and onions fried in oil). Latkes are typically served with apple sauce and/or sour cream.   Another delicious Chanukah treat are jelly donuts (also called Sufganiyot) that are also fried in oil.

Play the Dreidel Game:  A four sided top called a dreidel (or sivivon) is used to play a game with small candies or nuts.  Players get an equal amount of candies and some are placed into a “pot” in the center.   Players take turns spinning the dreidel and depending on what side it falls on, follow the directions. 

Tikkun Olam:  Tikkun Olam means “Repairing the World” in Hebrew.   Chanukah is a wonderful time to discuss standing up for what you believe in and being grateful for what you have.   Giving time, money and service to those less fortunate is a lovely way to honor the miracle of Chanukah.

From our family to yours, Happy Chanukah!

* There is a custom among some Jews to substitute the word “God” with “G-d” when writing in English.  Jewish law states that in order to give the Hebrew word for “God” the highest respect and reverence,  it can never be erased or destroyed when presented in printed form.   Although there is no Jewish law that prevents erasing or destroying the word “God” when written in English, many American Jews use “G-d” in order to erase or dispose of printed materials without showing disrespect.  


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