Hanukkah

By Lisa Grissom

Hanukkah, Chanukah,  (חֲנֻכָּה‎ or חֲנוּכָּה‎) or Hanukka in Yiddish, is an eight-day Jewish festival that celebrates the recovery of the Second Temple by the Jews of Judea, also known as the Maccabees. Led by Judah, this group of scrappy Jewish rebels rose up against the oppressive King Antiochus IV to reclaim and rededicate the second temple after its destruction in 164 BCE by the Syrian Greeks, who had turned it into a pagan shrine.

Although there are several versions of the story, according to the Book of Maccabees in the Talmud, this event was not only a military victory but also somewhat of a spiritual one. As the story goes, there was only a modest amount of olive oil to light the ceremonial candelabra or menorah. The oil was expected to last only a single day, but it lasted for eight, allowing the rebels to survive, outwit their enemies, and reclaim the temple. Thus, the miracle of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, was born.

Considered to be more of a cultural holiday than a religious one, Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and eight nights in the month of Kislev, according to the Hebrew calendar. The candles on the menorah, or hanukkiah, are lit from right to left each night by using the shammash, the center candle which is taller than the rest. Traditions include singing songs, playing the dreidel, and making and eating fried foods such as latkes and sufganiyot, also known as pontshkes in Yiddish. Because of its proximity to Christmas on the secular calendar, Hanukkah has grown in relevance, particularly in the United States, as Jews look to identify with their own traditions at this time of year.

In recent years, the meaning of Hanukkah continues to grow and expand. Give Light is a Reboot project that celebrates this holiday in new ways by asking, how can we – as individuals, as a community, as a society – give light to others in need? Give Light asks us to reflect upon the story of the Maccabees and to think beyond it. We can draw upon the strength of our ancestors, and add to the story by offering our own notions of what it means to give light. In challenging times and in the best of times, what does giving light mean to you?