The joy of Chanukah

Dec. 7, 2004, midnight | By Anthony Glynn | 19 years, 4 months ago

Jewish history celebrated in holiday from Dec. 7 through 14

Whether attending services at a local temple, throwing parties in classrooms or cooking with parents in a tiny kitchen and sending countless dishes crashing to the floor in the process, many Blair students are excited that it's Chanukah.


The holiday began in 165 B.C.E. when the Jews reclaimed the holy Temple of Jerusalem and celebrated their victory after years of war with the oppressive Greek power. The Temple had been seized and defiled by the Greeks in 168 B.C.E., and the Jewish religion was outlawed. Jewish High Priest Mattathias Maccabee's refusal to bow to an idol and eat the flesh of a pig shortly after the prohibition resulted in the killing of Greek soldiers and incited a Jewish uprising. Mattathias' son Judah Maccabee led the Jewish army, which had far fewer men and weapons than the Greeks, in guerilla warfare.

After cleaning the Temple, the Jews wanted to light the Menorah in celebration but could only find a small container of oil holding enough oil to last one night. But the oil miraculously lasted for eight nights, and by the last night, the Jews had brought back enough oil to keep the Menorah lit.

What happened after the reclamation of the Temple is disputed. Most Reform Jews use the story of the candle lasting for eight days as a fairy tale for children. This sect of Judaism believes the story began to show up in texts centuries after the war. Many Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, believe the story is an accurate portrayal of the event.


The disbelief in the legitimacy of the story has little effect on the ceremonies involved in lighting the Menorah on Chanukah. Candles are placed in the Menorah from right to left and after nightfall, lit from left to right. The middle candle, referred to as the Shamash or "helper/servant," is used to light the other candles. According to Blair's Jewish Culture Club Sponsor Franklin Cohen, before the lighting of the Menorah on the first night, Jews recite three blessings, pertaining to the physical lighting of the Menorah, to the victory of the Jewish people and to new beginnings.

The direct translation of "Chanukah" is "dedication," which references the re-dedication of the Temple. While the meaning of the word is universally acknowledged, its significance is debated. Rabbi Michael Feshbach of Chevy Chase's Temple Shalom, a synagogue with approximately 20 Blair members, says, "The message of Chanukah is that it is okay to be different." He further states that Chanukah and Christmas are unrelated, despite what others may think. "If the message of Christmas is universal love, then it does not carry the same meaning as Chanukah." Feshbach believes the underlying message behind Chanukah is how to survive as a minority in an overwhelming majority society. The message can be applied to the Blair area because of the small population of Jews in a predominantly Christian community. Another interpretation of Chanukah according to Cohen is that it signifies the freedom of religion, the military victory and the miracle of lights. Senior Hannah Schnieder views it mostly as a way to bring families together.

Chanukah today

Feshbach, Cohen and Schnieder agree that there are fallacies in the history of Chanukah, but all partake in the holiday spirit with great enthusiasm. Feshbach writes articles about the holiday to make known the importance of remembering Jewish strength and history. Cohen is planning a Chanukah party as part of the Jewish Culture Club on Dec. 15. According to Cohen, last year's party was popular with teachers and students of many faiths. This year, he says the celebration will include an entertainer, traditional foods, music and perhaps a singer. Schnieder has a more family-oriented event planned.

Common Chanukah celebrations include traditional foods and games. A game Jews usually partake in during the holiday is the spinning of a dreidel, which is the Yiddish word for "turn." A dreidel is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters on each side that is spun by the players who are betting on each side. Meanwhile, the most frequented Chanukah foods are latkes, which are simply potato pancakes, and sufganiyots, which are jelly donuts dripped in hot oil and covered with sugar or cinnamon.

Schnieder enjoys making the food with her family just as much as eating it. "I help my mom cook [on Chanukah]. I never help my mom cook," Schnieder giggles. "We have a tiny kitchen, so we always get in each others way and always end up dropping something, breaking a plate, losing forks and spoons under the stove, but we always just laugh it off. Our dog just sits there in amazement." In the end, however, a feast is prepared, and the smell of food is present throughout Schneider's house. "It smells really fried. We leave a lot of oil, and there's onions and potatoes. They're delicious." After dinner, her family exchanges presents.

The giving of the presents was a recent development in the Chanukah tradition says Cohen. He says the custom began due to the unconscious connection Jews and non-Jews have made between Chanukah and Christmas. "We are living in a predominantly Christian country," says Cohen. "Most Christians react to it by thinking [Chanukah and Christmas] are similar when they have no connection at all, except the timing. Partly why the party is so popular is because it is an inflated holiday. Not to minimize it, but it gets 'more press' than the other holidays." Schnieder states that the more traditional Orthodox Jews do not give presents because they strictly abide by the original rituals. Schnieder further explains that the holiday is not even mentioned in the Torah, one of the Jew's holy scriptures.

Schnieder enjoys Chanukah so much she feels "warm and fuzzy" whenever she thinks about it. "It gives us a reason to think about what the people around us are like, what each person is about. You have to really think about presents. They aren't the main part, but in my mind, they are - what each person really wants, what they really could use, what would make them happy."

Silver Chips Online wishes all Blazers a happy Chanukah.

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