Celebrate Chanukah!

The Festival of Lights


Chanukah is an eight-day holiday commemorating the Jews’ victory over the Greeks in the second century BCE. At the time, Jerusalem was ruled by the Seleucids, ethnic Syrians who were part of the Greek empire. The Seleucids tried to impose Greek values on the Jews and pressured them to stop worshipping God and following the tenets of their faith. 

High Priest pouring oil over the menorah

Many Jews went along with this plan and assimilated into Greek culture, but a feisty minority refused to comply. Led by Judah the Maccabee, these faithful Jews with only primitive weaponry managed to defeat the mightiest empire in the world. They drove the Greeks from the Holy Land, reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem, and rededicated it to the service of God.

The central observance of the festival is a nightly menorah lighting to commemorate a miracle that occurred during the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. After the godless Greeks desecrated the Temple, the Jews needed to light the menorah (candelabra) to rededicate it, but they were only able to find a tiny container of uncontaminated oil. Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil lasted eight days, which was enough time for new oil to be produced.

Chanukah is a celebration of religious freedom and the right to be different. 

Jewish boy celebrating the 8th night of Chanukah


The menorah holds nine flames, one of which (the shamash) is used to light the other eight lights. On the first night we light one flame, on the second night two, and so on until the final light of the holiday when all eight flames are lit.

Chanukah menorahs are customarily lit in the window, to share our light with the world. Some have the custom of lighting in doorways. We say special prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God for “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.”


During Chanukah it’s customary to eat foods fried in oil, to commemorate the miracle of the oil. Classic Chanukah foods include latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts).



During the eight-day festival, Jewish children play the dreidel game for a pot of gelt (chocolate coins.) A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top bearing Hebrew letters nun, gimmel hei and shin, an acronym for nes gadol hayah sham, “a great miracle happened there.” In Israel the shin is substituted for the letter peh, to mean “a great miracle happened here.”

Dreidels started as a way to preserve Judaism. When the Syrian-Greeks ruled over the Holy Land, they outlawed Jewish practices such as Shabbat observance and Torah learning. Jewish children would hide in caves to learn Torah in secret. When they saw a Greek soldier approaching, they would quickly hide their scrolls and take out dreidels, pretending to be playing an innocent game.


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