By LETHBRIDGE INTERFAITH NETWORK on December 10, 2020.
Part of a series of ongoing contributions from the Lethbridge Interfaith Network
Chanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem during the second century BC, following the triumph of a small group of Jewish rebels, known as the Maccabees, against their oppressors.
In order to rededicate the temple, the Maccabees had to light a menorah that would burn within the temple at all times. However, they only had enough ritually pure olive oil to last for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, the time needed to find a fresh supply of sanctified pure oil. Which is why Chanukkah, also known as Festival of Lights, lasts for eight days.
A Chanukkiyah is a Chanukkah menorah used specifically to light candles to celebrate Chanukkah. There are specific rules about lighting a menorah. The menorah has nine branches, one for each night plus a shamash, meaning helper or servant, which is lit first and then used to light the other candles. The candles are placed on the menorah from right to left, and one candle is lit the first night, two on the second, and so on until eight candles have been lit for eight days.
The miracle of the oil lasting eight days is not only celebrated through the lighting of the menorah, but also in the traditional foods that are eaten. Two of the most popular dishes, latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), are both deep-fried in oil. While the tastiness of these foods are reason enough to eat them, it’s the oil used to cook them that make them a staple for most Chanukkah celebrations.
The dreidel (four-sided spinning top) has been resurrected as a fun game played during Chanukkah for chocolate coins. Each side of the dreidel has a different Hebrew letter, which tells the player how much to put in, or take out, of the pot. Together, these four letters form the acronym for “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham,” which means “a great miracle happened there,” referring to the miracle of the oil lasting eight days in Israel.
While it rarely seems to be celebrated on the same day, on the Jewish calendar (a lunar calendar), Chanukkah always falls on the 25th day of the month of Kislev. The first day of Chanukkah can come as early as November or as late as the end of December, which means occasionally Chanukkah overlaps with Thanksgiving or Christmas. This year Chanukkah is December 11-18.
Submitted by: Joel Bermack and Garry Kohn of Beth Israel Synagogue
Lethbridge Interfaith Network