Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is an ancient Jewish festival celebrated throughout the world. This year, Hanukkah begins at sunset on December 22 and ends at nightfall on December 30.
The events that Hanukkah commemorates occurred during the second century in Israel, when the country was ruled by Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks). Against all odds, a small band of poorly armed Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, fought against their oppressors and drove them out of Jerusalem. When Jewish leaders went to the Temple to light the Menorah (the traditional seven-branched candelabrum), they found only a single container of olive oil. Amazingly, this one-day supply lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.
At the heart of Hanukkah is the nightly menorah lighting, which is preceded by the reciting of special blessings. Menorahs are lit in homes and in synagogues, and sometimes in public places. The menorah holds nine candles, one of which is the shamash (attendant), which is used to kindle the other eight candles.
On the first night, one candle is lit, and on each succeeding night an additional candle is lit. By the eighth night of Hanukkah, all eight candles are kindled, and the menorah is placed in a doorway or window. Then celebrants sing traditional songs.
Another Hanukkah custom is to play with a dreidel, a four-sided spinning top bearing the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin. This is an acronym for nes gadol hayah sham, meaning “a great miracle happened there,” referring to the eight days the oil burned at the Temple. The game is usually played for a pot of coins, nuts, or small toys. The pot is won or lost based on which letter the dreidel lands on when it is spun.
Historically, Hanukkah celebrants gave only gelt (gifts of money) to children during the holiday. The cash gifts provided the opportunity for children to give the cash away as tzedakah (charity). This ancient custom has spawned the modern phenomenon of giving foil-covered chocolate “coins.”
Today, people often give other types of Hanukkah gifts as well, to both adults and children.
Since the Hanukkah miracle involved oil, it’s customary to eat foods fried in oil. The classic Eastern-European Hanukkah dish, which has gained popularity in the United States, is the potato pancake, called latke, which is often served with applesauce or sour cream. In both Israel and the United States, another favorite food is the fried, jelly-filled sufganya (doughnut).
Congregation Beth Shalom, in Bozeman, Montana will hold a Hanukkah celebration on December 20, at 6 p.m. The celebration will include a menorah lighting, festive songs, and latkes. A Hanukkah teaching will be offered and sufganiyot will be served at a Torah Study on December 21, at 9:30 a.m. For more information, call (406)556-0528 or go to www.bethshalombozeman.org. MSN