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Hanukkah Around the World
By Tami Lehman-Wilzig, Vicki Wehrman
Kar-Ben PublishingCopyright © 2009 Tami Lehman-Wilzig
All rights reserved.
HANUKKAH The Holiday That Lights Up Our Life
Hanukkah is a happy holiday filled with songs, games, and gifts. All over the world, Jews gather to light and bless the holiday candles and to recall the story of religious freedom that is behind all the fun.
The first Hanukkah was celebrated over 2,000 years ago. At that time, Israel was ruled by Syrian Greeks. Their king, Antiochus Epiphanes, wanted the Jews to accept Greek culture. When he used the Holy Temple for pagan sacrifices, the Jews knew they had to take a stand.
Enter the Maccabees. Their fight began in Modi'in, where a priest named Mattathias lived with his five sons. He decided that Antiochus had to be stopped and appointed his third son, Judah, to lead the rebellion. Judah was given the name Maccabee. Some say the name is from the Aramaic word for "hammer," and hammer away is exactly what Judah did. He understood strategy. He and his small band of fighters pounded the large Syrian army for three years. Eventually they drove the enemy out of Jerusalem and restored the Temple. On the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev in the year 165 B.C.E., the golden menorah in the Temple was relit. The people celebrated joyfully for eight days and proclaimed that they would celebrate a holiday of rededication each year.
Hanukkah is a celebration of miracles. The first miracle is that a small army, with few weapons, was able to win against the large, well-trained Syrian army.
The second miracle concerns the little jug of oil. According to legend, when the Maccabees searched for the pure oil needed to light the Temple menorah, they found only one jug, enough to burn for just one day. But the oil lasted, and the menorah burned brightly for eight days until more oil could be found.
The Hanukkah-Israel Connection
In 1948, over 2,000 years after the first Hanukkah, the newly created State of Israel was at war. Once again, a small number of Jews relied on strategy to beat not one, but many mighty armies surrounding them. Like the victory of the Maccabees, Israel's victory was also a miracle. To honor it, the new Jewish state chose as its symbol the seven-branched Temple menorah.
What Does the Word Hanukkah Mean?
Hanukkah means dedication, which is exactly what the Jews did – they rededicated the Temple and made it holy again. Today, when members of a family move, they often host a Hanukkat HaBayit to dedicate their new home. This housewarming includes putting mezuzahs on the doorposts and rejoicing with family and friends.
Hanukkah is also called Chag Ha'or –the holiday of light. We place the hanukkiah near a window to proclaim the miracle, and so that neighbors and passersby can see, admire, and share in its light.
If you are an Ashkenazi Jew (of European ancestry) it is traditional for every family member to light a hanukkiah. If you are Sephardi (descended from Spanish or Portuguese Jews), only the head of the household lights the hanukkiah.
In Hebrew, the Hanukkah menorah is called a hanukkiah. Unlike the seven-branched Temple menorah, it has nine branches – eight to recall the miracle of the oil and an extra, the shamash, to light the others.
Candles or Oil?
Those who wish to remain true to the miracle of Hanukkah use pure olive oil with cotton wicks to light the hanukkiah . Other oils and wicks, or wax candles, may also be used. The lights must stay lit for at least half an hour, and no work should be done while they are burning. One needs 44 candles for all eight nights. Candles (or wicks) should be lined up from right to left. But the last candle added is the first lit, and the lighting continues from left to right. On Friday night, Hanukkah candles are lit before Shabbat candles. On Saturday night, Hanukkah candles are lit after Havdalah.
Store your candles in the freezer to make them burn longer.
The Great Debate
Back in the 1st century, the famous rabbinic schools of Hillel and Shammai debated the order of lighting the Hanukkah menorah. According to Shammai's followers, we should kindle eight lights on the first night and one fewer each succeeding night, representing the gradual depletion of the little jug of pure oil. Hillel's students believed the opposite: we should begin with a single light and add one more each night, because the symbol of holiness should grow. The school of Hillel won the debate, and we continue to follow that order.
It's Time for Song
It is traditional to sing two songs after lighting the candles: Hanerot Halalu (These Lights) is based on a Talmudic text that explains that the lights are lit to recall the miracle. They are sacred and may not be used in any other way. An Ashkenazi custom is to follow with Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages). Each of the song's stanzas praises God for rescuing the Jews from their many enemies throughout history. The fifth stanza recalls the miracle of Hanukkah.
The Hanukkah Megillah
There is no mention of Hanukkah in the Bible. The story is recorded in the Books of the Maccabees and referred to in the Talmud. Pieces of these texts and other legends about the holiday were compiled in The Scroll (Megillah) of Antiochus. Written in Aramaic sometime before the Middle Ages, it was translated into Hebrew and included in some prayer books. From the 9th century, it was read in a number of Jewish communities on the Shabbat that falls during Hanukkah.
Spin the Dreidel
Dreidel, a game of chance, is everyone's favorite Hanukkah pastime. There are different versions of the origins of the game. Legend dates it back to the actual time of the Hanukkah miracle, when Jews played dreidel as a way to hide their study of Torah. As soon as they saw Greek-Syrian soldiers approach, they put away their books, took out their dreidels, and pretended to play.
Some believe that the dreidel is a variation of a German gambling game, and that dreidel, which is a Yiddish word, comes from the German word drehen which means "to spin." In Hebrew, a dreidel is called a sevivon, which means "a spinning top."
The four letters on the dreidel Nun, Gimel, Hey, Shin stand for the words Nes Gadol Hayah Sham – A Great Miracle Happened There.
In Israel, the letter Shin is replaced by the letter Peh, reminding everyone that Nes Gadol Hayah Poh – A Great Miracle Happened Here.
Caesarea, an Israeli town along the Mediterranean coast, is home to the largest dreidel in the world. Created by Eran Greble, it is 18 feet tall and stands at the city's train station. Made out of a half ton of iron, it spins with the wind.
Players begin with an equal number of tokens, such as chocolate Hanukkah coins, pennies, or buttons. Each player puts a token into the middle. The first player spins the dreidel. If it lands on:
Nun – No luck! No one collects.
Gimel – Good for you! You get it all.
Hey – Half is yours!
Shin – Shell out another token and add it to the pot.
Peh (on the Israeli dreidel) – Put one in.
Before the next player spins, everyone must put in another token. The game ends when one person has accumulated all the tokens – or everyone is ready for latkes.
The City That Carries the Torch
"Come here, I have something to show you," Orly's mother calls to her daughter. Orly enters the living room and sits down next to her mother, who is looking at an old family album. She points to a photo of a young girl holding a lit torch, standing with a group of seven boys and girls. "That's Savta Raba, your great-grandmother. The caption says 'Hanukkah 1943.' The relay from Modi'in to Jerusalem started five years before Israel became a state. And Savta Raba was the first one to carry the torch."
Orly stares at the old black-and-white photo. "Wow! And this year I'm carrying the torch," she whispers.
Ima hugs Orly. "And you're carrying on a family tradition. When I visited Savta Raba and told her that you were chosen to lead the Hanukkah relay, she gave me this album, so you could see her photo."
The doorbell rings. "Come on in," Orly calls to her friend Anat. "Look at this!"Orly opens the album and tells Anat the story.
"Cool!" says Anat. She looks at her watch. "Oh, it's 3:15. We have to run. Today they're taking us to where the relay begins and showing us the route. We're starting near the graves of the Maccabees."
In a flash, the two are out the door. Seconds later Orly flies back in, panting. "Ima can I take the photo? I want to show it to Avi, my youth group leader."
Orly's mother carefully removes the photo and puts it in an envelope. "Just don't lose it!" she says.
Each day after school Orly and Anat practice running to build up their stamina. One day, Ima gets a call from Avi with a special request. After seeing the old photo, he's had an idea.
Excerpted from Hanukkah Around the World by Tami Lehman-Wilzig, Vicki Wehrman. Copyright © 2009 Tami Lehman-Wilzig. Excerpted by permission of Kar-Ben Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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