Happy Hanukkah

Published 1:04 am Sunday, December 9, 2007

In order to help the Jewish families of Pearl River County celebrate Hanukkah, it is important to understand the tradition and history behind the holiday.

Hanukkah officially started at sundown this past Tuesday, and there are three days left to celebrate.

In retrospect to other holidays celebrated by the Jewish people, Hanukkah is relatively minor. It is most often linked to the Christian Christmas holiday because the two both fall around the same time every year. However, the two celebrations are extremely different, and only greeting card companies would like you to believe otherwise.

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No matter how you spell it, there is no exact translation of the Hebrew word for Hanukkah, the word means “dedication”, and with that come some very special traditions and holiday rituals.

Rabbi Judith Siegal of the Temple Judea in Coral Gables, Florida, and a former resident of New Orleans, took the time to explain the story behind the holiday, and how it is typically celebrated by Jewish families around the world.

Rabbi Siegal talks about why the celebration seems to fall on different days usually in December. “While it does fall on different days on the Secular calendar, on the Hebrew calendar it always starts the same day.” Hanukkah begins the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the Hebrew calendar.

“The celebration lasts for eight days and commemorates the victory of religious freedom. The Maccabee family and Jewish Soldiers took back the holy Temple from the King of Syria who seized it, forcing Jews to worship greek gods. Upon reentering the Temple, the Soldiers decided to light the Menorah. They found enough oil to last for a day. Miraculously the oil lasted for eight days, and that is the miracle of Hanukkah,” Rabbi Siegal explains.

Honoring this miraculous event, Jewish people will get together with friends and family for eight consecutive days and sit down to dinner. Latkes, or potato pancakes, will be a part of this meal. They are fried in oil and symbolize the oil that lasted beyond its life expectancy. Jews in Israel will eat jelly doughnuts for the same reason.

According to Rabbi Siegal, after the meal, the Menorah, either set on the table, or more appropriately in the window for all to see, is lit — one candle for each day. Menorah literally means candelabra, but to the Jewish it is so much more then that.

The family and guests will then sing songs and play games. The most popular game is played with a dreidal. It is a spinning top of sorts. Each side of the dreidal has a different Hebrew letter engraved on it, and the letters stand for “a great miracle happened here”.

Another tradition associated with the celebration is gift giving. Eight presents, one for each day, will be exchanged. Presents can be literal or figurative. For example, on one of the eight days the family could choose to learn about poverty, and that night donate time or money to the poor.

Like Christmas, every family will celebrate Hanukkah in their own way. Rabbi Siegal says, “It is mostly a time to rededicate ourselves to the values at the center of our faith.” A beautiful sentiment for all special holidays celebrated at this time of year.