Home for the Holidays

My Memories of Hanukkah

By Susan Braverman

Hanukkah began at sundown on Tuesday, December 12 and ends today – Wednesday, December 20. During Hanukkah, each day, a candle is lit on a special menorah (candle holder) called “hanukkiyah.” The special ninth candle, traditionally the centre candle, is the “shammash” (servant candle) and is used to light the other candles. The menorah is often placed in the front window, displayed for others to see, and to remember the story of Hanukkah.

Image Source: Michele Westmorland / Getty Images

Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of lights marking the rededication of the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem, which took place during the 160s BCE. Hanukkah lasts for eight days and is the Hebrew word for “dedication.” It begins on the 25th day of Kislev, which is the month in the Jewish calendar usually occurring around the same time as December.

Growing up with a Jewish father, I can remember many special times celebrating Hanukkah. My dad came from a large family, and although I was not raised in the Jewish faith, I grew up being a part of many lavish gatherings full of friends and neighbours. Those who didn’t have family would join us – rabbis, shoemakers and doctors alike – to share the joy and peace of Hanukkah. My dad’s extended family, including first, second, and third cousins would fly in from all parts of Canada and the US, and on the first night, my aunt’s or uncle’s house would be bustling with joy, laughter, love, and warmth. Even though I didn’t know many of the people, I felt so loved by these strangers. We were family.

Me and my dad, Jack Braverman. This picture was taken in 2016 at my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party.

The Story of Hanukkah
During the time of the second temple, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucid Empire, which robbed the Jews and set up idols in the temple. No one could take a stand against them until Mattityahu and his sons drove them out. The Hanukkah lights are reminders of the great miracle, that a small group of Jews were able to overpower the mighty Seleucid army. Even greater was the miracle of the oil. The Seleucid Empire had contaminated the oil in the temple, but the Maccabees (the Jewish warriors), found one single jar that had been untouched. Though this oil was only enough to burn for one day, the warriors lit it as an expression of respect for God, and it miraculously burned for eight days.

Image Source: Wikipedia

Hanukkah Today
During the Jewish festival of lights, gifts are often given on each night. It’s a time gathering with friends and family to play games and celebrate. One popular game is “dreidel”, which is a four- sided top with a letter on each side. The four letters reflect “Nes Gadol Hayah Po.” Translated to English, this phrase means, “A great miracle happened here.” Each player places a coin in a pot and spins the top. The letter signifies how much or how little of the pot is won during each round. The importance of the oil in the Hanukkah story is remembered by preparing and sharing fried foods like “latkes” (potato pancakes) and “sufganiyot” (jam-filled doughnuts).

Image Source: Fuse / Getty Images

Happy Hanukkah! L’chaim!

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