Understanding The Festival of Lights: Happy Chanukah From The Staten Island Holocaust Center
The Jewish holiday of Chanukah is known as the Festival of Lights, commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 164 B.C. after three years of war. Chanukah means "dedication." Jerusalem at the time was part of the Hellenistic empire and was ruled by Antiochus IV.
Although it does often fall around the same time of year, this yearly celebration is actually a commemoration of a religiously significant event—namely, a successful revolt led by the Maccabees (i.e., the heroes of Chanukah) against their Syrian-Greek oppressors, and the subsequent rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The story goes that in the aftermath of the revolt, the desecrated temple had only enough oil for one ritual nightly lighting of the menorah. However, by a miracle from God, that small amount of oil was able to last for eight full days, giving the Jewish worshippers enough time to procure more.
Today, Chanukah (also known as the Festival of Lights) is a happy occasion when families and friends gather together to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness by lighting candles for eight nights and enjoying some of the festive Chanukah traditions.
The most important of all the Chanukah traditions is the lighting of the menorah, a nine-branched candelabra that represents the lamp (and the miracle) from the Chanukah story told in the Talmud, a book of Jewish religious teachings. For the eight nights of Chanukah, families come together and light a new candle of the menorah, from left to right, while saying a blessing. After a candle is lit, families often place the menorah in a window where it will fill the room with light, whilst being visible to passersby.
Fun fact: Although there are only eight nights of Chanukah, there are nine branches on a menorah because the one at the center is intended to hold the shamash, a candle used to light the others. Also, if you’re wondering where oil factors into all this, we can explain that, too. While oil was once used in the wells of the menorah, the ritual changed with the times and eventually candles took the place of oil.
From all of here at the Staten Island Holocaust Center, may your celebrations be warm and meaningful, and may peace and light always be in your heart.
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