Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians over two thousand years ago. After scrubbing the entire Temple so that it could be re-dedicated, only one jar of oil could be found to light the seven-branched menorah. It took eight days to make more purified oil—during which the menorah continued to burn brightly—and the miracle of these flames is celebrated today with the lighting of candles on the eight nights of Hanukkah. The author's note gives us these facts in the back matter of this modern "midrash" (a story which expands on a biblical text by offering details or commentary) explaining what "might" have happened. The Ziz is a gigantic (I mean really HUGE) yellow bird with bright red wings and purple plumes on his forehead. As the season changes and darkness settles earlier each day, the Ziz is disconcerted that he cannot see to cook his dinner. After several bird-brained ideas (fireflies who do not like being kept in a net, lantern fish who do not like being scooped into a pot and refuse to "glow," and his own failed efforts to lasso the moon and pull it home), the Ziz asks God for help. He is given a lamp filled with oil, which delights him but demonstrates his selfishness as he does not want to share the light. He decides to move so that he can keep the light for his own enjoyment. While looking for a new home, he observes Judah Maccabee feeling sad that there is not enough oil for the Temple menorah. The Ziz decides that God must not know about this situation. Off he flies to talk to God, who tells the Ziz that he already knows about the problem, but that it is up to the Ziz to help Judah. Of course, the Ziz claims not to know how to help, all thewhile holding his own lamp. Shouting "NO" and "Mine! Mine!" the Ziz flies off carrying his lamp and crying because God has never asked "anything this hard of him before." Almost blinded by his tears, he practically crashes into the Temple. Here he sees the beautiful menorah and overhears the mice lamenting that it will soon run out of oil. "I can help" he tells them; but, because of his size he cannot get through the Temple door. The mice (with the help of a friendly owl) manage to get the oil into the menorah to sustain the beautiful lights. As the Ziz returns to his original home, he feels downcast that there is only a tiny bit of oil left. That night he is thrilled to discover that his lamp burns brighter than ever and he invites all the other animals to join him to watch the "lovely flame dancing in the darkness." This could, indeed, have been the workings of the Hand of God to create the Hanukkah miracle. Brightly colored, extremely bold cartoon illustrations accompany the text, perhaps encouraging little listeners to make up some stories of their own about the Ziz.
Jacqueline Jules is an award-winning author and poet. Her many children’s books include The Hardest Word, a National Jewish Book Award finalist; Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winners Sarah Laughs and Benjamin and the Silver Goblet; the Ziz adventure series, and Once Upon A Shabbos. She lives in northern Virginia.