Chanukah, the 8-Day Jewish Festival of Lights
There are a lot of different ways to spell Hanukkah because there is no single English translation of the Hebrew word, but everyone is commemorating the same holiday, a celebration of Jewish national survival and religious freedom.
The eight day Jewish festival of Chanukah began Tuesday night December 20th. Senator Charles Schumer of New York helped to light the world’s largest Chanukah Menorah at New York’s most fashionable plaza, Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, by Central Park, between the Plaza and the Pierre Hotels.
Over the years the World’s Largest Menorah was lit by New York City Mayors, Abraham Beame, Ed Koch, David Dinkins, Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, Governors Mario Cuomo, George Pataki and David Paterson, United States Senators Jacob Javits and many others.
Watch the video here:http://www.mail.com/video/topvideos/925154-worlds-largest-menorah-lit.html
The 32-foot high, gold colored, 4,000 pound steel structure was lit nightly with genuine oil lamps. Specially designed glass chimneys protected the Chanukah lights from the Central Park winds.
Due to the height of the Menorah, it was lit nightly with the help of a Con Edison “cherry-picker” crane as well as two lifts that lifted the lighters to the “Menorah Heights.”
The Menorah was certified by Guinness World Records as the World’s Largest. It was specially designed by world renowned artist Yaacov Agam who lit the Menorah many times. It was inspired by a hand drawing by the Rambam (Maimonides) of the original Menorah in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem.
Folk dancing and sufganiyot (holiday jelly doughnuts) “Chanukah Gelt” for the children and hot “Latkes” (potato pancakes) are the traditional items that marks this celebration.
The world’s largest Hanukkah menorah stands as a symbol of freedom of democracy and delivers the message of light over darkness and freedom over oppression.
The Holiday of Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas, it’s a completely different celebration. It celebrates something that happened many years ago, fighting for religious freedom, and miracles that happened at that time.
So WHAT HAPPENED??
See below is a very short excerpt of the incident that inspired and still inspires generations today and future generations to come. (This version below is a quick read)
Tracey R. Rich is my “go to” site for information and the best place to start if you want to understand Jewish traditions.
For a more specific detailed historical account http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday7.htm)
Eight Nights, Eight Lights
Hanukkah is a holiday of opposites. On the one hand, the winter holiday is a delight‹eight days of songs, games, candlelight, gifts, and delicious foods. Yet Hanukkah recalls a violent story about the first great war for religious freedom.
Twenty-four hundred years ago, the Jewish people lived as farmers, shepherds, and grape growers in Israel.
They believed one invisible god had created the entire world and had given them laws to follow for a good and just life.
Other peoples at that time worshiped gods of nature, whose power and presence could be sensed by everyone. They could feel the warmth of the sun god and praise the rain god for thundershowers. To them, every element of the world represented a god.
The idea of just one invisible god puzzled many peoples, especially the worldly and sophisticated Greeks. They valued education, physical beauty, and celebrations, and worshiped a family of gods who were supposed to have special powers over their lives and activities.
Many Jews liked the Greek way of life. Their language, clothes, and beliefs spread around the world.
Some Jews left their farms to take up trade with the Greeks. Returning home with money, new customs, and perhaps a new Greek name such as Jason instead of Joshua, they became the trendsetters of the Jewish community.
Still, not everyone followed the new fashion; a few Jews spoke out against the new life-style.
Antiochus IV, the Syrian king who came to power in 175 B.C.E., insisted that all Jews become Greek. When Jews didn’t convert quickly enough, Antiochus banned their holidays, burned their books, and killed anyone, including mothers and children, who wouldn’t bow to Zeus, the chief Greek god.
Antiochus erected altars to Zeus everywhere, including in the Great Temple in Jerusalem.
In those days, there was only one Jewish temple in the world; it was meant to be the most beautiful building ever, because it was dedicated to God. It was made of fragrant cedar and polished granite.
On Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, Jews came from all over Israel to celebrate at the Temple. They brought gifts from the harvest of their farms to the Temple to thank God for their crops.
In 167 B.C.E., Syrian soldiers came to the mountain village of Modin, in Israel, to meet with Mattathias, an elderly and respected Jewish priest.
With flattery and bribery, they tried to coax him and his five sons to come to an altar where they had erected a statue of Zeus. They also wanted Mattathias to kill a pig and eat some of it, a food forbidden to Jews: he would set an example for other Jews to follow. Mattathias refused.
Suddenly a villager, tempted by the soldiers’ promises of riches, stepped in front of the altar, ready to bow before it.
Enraged at the traitor, Mattathias struck and killed him and a soldier. Tearing down the altar, he thundered, “Whoever is for God, follow me!” Then he and his sons, along with a few followers, fled to the mountains and planned their attack on Antiochus.
Mattathias and his sons called the Maccabees, which means “hammers”, led a small group of soldiers against Antiochus’s immense army. The Maccabees, fighting with sticks and stones and farm tools, won victory after victory against the Syrians, who were armed with swords and javelins and used elephants as tanks.
How the Maccabees won is a mystery and a miracle.
It helped that they knew the country better than the Syrians. And they knew they had to win, because if they didn’t, the Jewish people would be destroyed. But mostly, they won because they felt the spirit of God inside them, and that gave them special strength.
On the twenty-fifth of Kislev, 165 B.C.E., the Maccabees returned triumphantly to Jerusalem, ready to celebrate. Instead, they grieved. The Temple was filthy‹blood, dirt, and ashes covered everything. All the books, Torahs, and candlesticks were gone.
Worst of all, there was only a drop of oil left for the Menorah. Made of gold, the Menorah was a lamp with seven branches, one for each day of the week. It was supposed to burn continuously. One drop of oil would last for only one day.
But when the oil was poured into the lamp, it burned for a second day, and a third. In all, it burned for eight days, and that is why Hanukkah is eight days long. Hanukkah means Feast of Dedication, because the Maccabees rededicated, or restored, the Temple to what it was supposed to be, a holy place in which to celebrate great days.
The story of Hanukkah is not about military victory, but about miracles, especially the miracle of a few people triumphing over tremendous odds in a struggle for the right to practice their religious beliefs.
This is not a magical or supernatural miracle, but something inside everyone, the spirit to choose what a person believes is right, no matter how hard or dangerous that may be.
WELL I HOPE THAT THIS HAS HELPED A LITTLE FOR A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE MEANING OF THE CELEBRATIONS OF HANUKKA.