Hanukkah highlights a miracle

The eight-day Jewish festival of lights celebrates religious freedom




Hanukkah recalls a miracle and military victory that Jewish families and community celebrate with lighting of menorahs, food and games.

The Jewish festival of lights begins about an hour after sundown tonight.

Rabbi Josh Jacobs-Velde of Congregation Ohev Tzedek said Hanukkah is a family-oriented observance. There are festive prayer services, Hallel, at synagogues.

“Hanukkah is a historical not biblical holiday,” Rabbi Josh said. It recalls the Maccabees who liberated Israel from the Syrian Greeks in 167 B.C.E. (before common era). The most famous was Judah Maccabee, who led the small band to victory over a bigger force. “The issue was about the Syrian Greeks forbidding Jewish religious practices for the Sabbath and circumcision,” he said.

Rabbi Josh said the gist of the story is about religious freedom.

The temple had to be rededicated after being defiled by the Syrian Greeks, but there was very little oil to keep the temple lamps lighted. “The story is that the oil lasted eight days when there was only enough for one day,” the rabbi said.

Rabbi Josh said since Hanukkah means dedication, it also should be a time of “cleansing and rededicating” of “internal temples.” Hanukkah comes after the High Holidays and provides a time of rededication for the goal to do better in the new year.

“There is intensity of services at the High Holidays,” Rabbi Josh said. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and Yom Kippur, often considered the holiest day of the Jewish year, were in September. It is a time rejoicing and reflection on one’s life. On Yom Kippur, absolution is sought to begin the new year fresh.

The miracle of the oil is recounted on the dreidel, a toy top, whose letters make up the acronym that “a miracle happened there,” Rabbi Josh said. “Rabbinic Judaism has shifted the focus from military prowess to the miracle and God’s power,” he said.

The holiday comes during the winter, a time of darkness. It’s natural to incorporate light, through the lighting of the menorah, as part of the observance. “It’s the idea of light in the midst of darkness,” he said. Rabbi Josh said he likes to use a menorah with floating wicks in olive oil to remember the miracle.

He and his wife, Rabbi Daria Jacobs-Velde, will celebrate Hanukkah this year with their two sons, Shlomo, 4, and Zev, 1. Her mother, Barbara Jacobs, made a menorah for Shlomo.

Ohev Tzedek and Temple El Emeth will have a joint Hanukkah party on Dec. 15, the final day. The event will feature homemade latkes (potato pancakes) and Israeli dancing. The highlight will be the third annual World Series of Dreidel.

Rabbi Josh explained the dreidel is used in a game of chance played with pennies, almonds or chocolate. Hebrew letters are on the four sides of a spinning top. Depending on what letter comes up, the spinner may take one out, put one in, take all or take half.

While she was studying in Israel, Rabbi Daria said she was easily able to participate in community Hanukkah celebrations and words of songs were the basically the same. “The community connected,” she said.

Where she was in the world was underscored. Rabbi Daria said she was accustomed to “a miracle happened there.”

In Israel, it’s “a miracle happened here.” She said “a line different” prompted her to appreciate being in the land where the miracle occurred.

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