By: Madison Lira
It’s the year 168 B.C.E., and the Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes has sent soldiers to Jerusalem where they desecrated the Jewish Temple and have abolished Judaism and outlawed Jewish celebrations. Antiochus forced the Jews to worship Greek gods and gave them the choice of converting from Judaism to his religion, or death.
On the 25 day of Dec., a Jewish resistance movement, led by the Maccabees, rose up and won two major battles against the Syrian King and his army, routing them decisively. From this, the holiday of Hanukkah began, as the term Hanukkah means “dedication.” So, it’s the festival that commemorates the purification and rededication to the Jewish Temple after the Syrian King and his army desecrated and dedicated it to the Greek God Zeus. The holiday lasts eight days because it’s intended to parallel the eight-day festival of Sukkot, which is meant to commemorate the battle that took place. According to the Reform Judaism organization, Hanukkah wasn’t even considered a popular Jewish holiday till the 19th Century, and the act of giving gifts during the holiday didn’t become a custom until the 1920s, and this background information about the origins of Hanukkah was gathered from ReformJudaism.org.
Referring to Reform Judaism, there are different ritual objects that are practiced during Hanukkah, that hold special significance to Jews and their heritage. The menorah, which is the nine-branched candle that is most often recognized, is the most common object. It has eight main branches, which represents each day of the holiday, and a ninth branch, which holds the shamash candle, which is the candle that is used to light the other candles of the menorah. Another recognizable object is the dreidel, it was adapted from an old German gambling game and Hanukkah was one of the few holidays where Rabbis allowed games of chance to be played. Other common rituals of the holiday are music, foods cooked in oil (to represent the jar of oil which lasted eight days during the original battle) and special prayers are added to synagogue services during Hanukkah (examples being Al HaNisim and Amidah).
I also got in touch with a local synagogue that’s located on 5th Street, named the United Hebrew Center. I had asked them what Hanukkah meant to them personally to which they said, “Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights, and to me and others, it’s about spreading light into a world of darkness, it’s about spreading goodness, goodwill into a world that has too much darkness in it, too much negativity, too much ill will towards our fellow human beings.” The person whom I spoke with had this to say as well about the misconceptions of the holiday, “Hanukkah and Christmas are two separate, distinct holidays, even though they usually occur around the same time of year.”