You have probably seen on Lincoln Road the large Hanukkah lamp and a giant cement dreidel decorating the street if you live in Miami, Florida. I always wondered what it represented. I knew it was related to a Jewish tradition but did not know why there are so many candles on the lamp and what they mean. Growing up with a small community of Jewish classmates, I learned that they exchange gifts for eight days. They will always talk about the gifts they received with excitement. As the feast is soon approaching, and after 17 years later, let us dig into the beautiful story of Hanukkah’s celebration and why we should all support it.
Hanukkah means in Hebrew: dedication. Other names used are Feast of Lights, Feast of Dedication, Feast of the Maccabees, or Chanukah. This particular feast is commemorated on the eve of Kislev 25 (Kislev in the Jewish calendar the third month of the civil and ninth of the religious year, usually coinciding with parts of November and December), and it develops for eight days. For the most part, it coincides with December.
What are we dedicating?
Doing some duly research, I found out about the miracle that inspired the feast.
In 165 BCE, The Seleucids (Syrian -Greeks) were trying to convert the Jews in Israel; they had already taken over some temples. A small group of determined Jews led by Judah, the Maccabee, and guided by God’s power defeated the opponent and drove the Greeks from the land. Judah reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God. They only found a single cruse of olive oil untouched by the Greeks to light up the Menorah, which would typically be one day’s supply of oil. Miraculously, the single portion lasted eight straight days until new oil could be prepared under ritual purity conditions.
How do we celebrate it?
The unique Menorah has nine candles, one for the shamash (“attendant”) and the remaining 8 commemorating the eight days that the oil lasted at the rededication. Every night of the feast, a special blessing is recited before the Menorah’s lighting, and traditional songs are sung. Every Jewish household has a menorah inside of their home, and it is lit as a Family.
Children receive presents(Hanukkah gelt), and card games are played. The dreidel is a four-sided top decorated with Hebrew letters, which form the phrase’s initials nes gadol haya sham, meaning “a great miracle happened there.” The game is usually played for a pot of coins, nuts, or other items, which is won or lost based on which letter the dreidel lands when it is spun.
Traditional foods are also part of the celebration; dishes fried in oil are customary—the famous Potato latke, with applesauce or sour cream, and jelly-filled sufganya.
Hanukkah represents God’s faithfulness “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few … the wicked into the hands of the righteous.”
(chabad.org). This feast brings joy to all Jewish families in the world who understand that God is stronger than any evil, and He rewards the courage and faith of His people.