Hanukkah—bring on the light!

The holiday of Hanukkah intentionally comes at a dark time of year—faiths that came before Judaism also celebrated the winter solstice, hoping to bring light into a dark world.

Based on the story of the Maccabees, a band of zealot Jews who refused to abdicate their faith for that of King Antiochus and the Assyrian Greeks, Hanukkah, which means “dedication,” recalls the story of those who fought for freedom to worship in their own way, and against assimilation. In 70 CE, the Assyrian Greeks had destroyed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, built by King Solomon, which was the seat of government, commerce and faith for the region. The Maccabees cleaned up rededicated the Holy Temple, lighting the eternal lamp that burns steadily, representing God’s eternal presence. The legend of a small jar of oil lasting eight days, although it was just a one-day supply, came about 300 years later, as the rabbinic sages did not want a holy day that only commemorated a military victory.

We celebrate by eating foods cooked in oil, (potato pancakes, or latkes, are popular, along with sufganiyot—jelly donuts, an Israeli treat).  We always give to charity, sing songs, play games with the dreidel—a spinning top—and enjoy our family and friends. Some families also give gifts, but that is a distinctly American custom.

The Jewish/Hebrew calendar is a lunar/solar combination, and therefore, the dates of Hanukkah can vary, but it is always in the winter and usually in December. This year, Hanukkah takes place from sunset on Dec. 22 to sunset on Dec. 30.

Wishing everyone a “hag urim samayach”—a happy holiday of light!

Rabbi Cantor Robbi Sherwin is with the Wood River Jewish Community.

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