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I've always kind of wondered a bit about Hanukkah. About the only thing I knew was that it had to do with lighting a Menorah. Sad, isn't it??

Hanukkah (also called Chanukah) comes from the Hebrew root "Hanokh" - inaugurate. It's called "The Festival of Lights" and is celebrated on the 25th day of the Hebrew month, Kislev.

In 165 B.C.E. (Before Common Era), the Syrian King, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, ordered the Jewish people to reject their God, religion, customs and beliefs and worship the Greek gods. Some of the people went along with this, but many did not. The head of the Hasmonean clan was a priest named Mattathias. He was living in Modi'in and was ordered by the King's officers to offer a sacrifice to the Greek gods. He refused. When another Jew stepped forward to do as the officer commanded, Mattathias killed not only that man, but the officer as well. He then took his 5 sons and his followers and fled into the hills.

King Antiochus sent soldiers into the hills to kill the rebels, but, using guerrilla tactics, the rebels were able to defeat them. The King then sent an even bigger army into the hills. One of Mattathias' sons was Judah, called Maccabee. He led the rebels against the army (again using guerrilla tactics) and was able to not only defeat the army, but recapture Jerusalem.

When the rebels saw the condition of the temple, they immediately began cleaning out all the idols and symbols of the Greeks. By the time they finished, it was the 25th day of Kislev (about a year later) and they wanted to celebrate the fact that the temple was once again in Jewish hands. However, they discovered that there was only enough oil to keep the N'er Tamid (the eternal or perpetual lamp located above the 'Ark' which holds the Torah {holy scroll} inside) burning for 3 days. It was an 8 day journey to the nearest town to get oil, but they had to go (the N'er Tamid is never allowed to go out because it is a symbol of the radiance of faith). So they set out, expecting to find the lamp burned out when they returned. But miraculously, the oil had lasted for 8 days!! And so, to honor this miracle, Hanukkah is always 8 days long.

The lighting of the Menorah (the HANUKIYAH) is the central part of the Hanukkah celebration. It not only commemorates the miracle of the eight days, but the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks, even though they were severely outnumbered. The Menorah consists of a base with nine candleholders, eight of the candles are for each night of Hanukkah and the ninth (called a SHAMASH or the servant) is used to light the others and is usually placed in a higher position than the others .

The candles are placed in the Menorah right to left, and lit left to right. Starting on the first night one candle is placed in the holder and lit, then two on the second, and so on until all eight have been placed in the Menorah. A blessing is offered to God for the commandment to "kindle the Hanukkah lights" before lighting the candles.
"Hold the lit shamash in your right hand and say:

Ba-ruch a-ta A-do-nai, E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam, a-sher kid-sha-nu be-mitz-vo-tav ve-tzi-va-nu le-had-lik ner shel cha-nu-kah.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah."

A second blessing is offered as the candles are lit. This one is for the miracle that the candles symbolize.

" Ba-ruch a-ta A-do-nai, E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam, she-a-sa ni-sim la- avo-tei-nu ba-ya-mim ha-hem ba-zman ha-zeh.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our ancestors, at this season, in days past."

On the first night of Hanukkah a special blessing (SHEHECHIYANU) is offered to signify that the candles are being lit for the first time this season.

"Ba-ruch a-ta A-do-nai, E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam, she-he-chi-yanu ve-kiy'manu ve-higi-anu la'zman ha'zeh

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who gave us life and kept us and delivered us to this time."

The candles are generally lit starting at nightfall and allowed to burn for at least 30 minutes. On Friday, they are lit before sunset to avoid lighting them on the Sabbath. After lighting the candles, it's traditional to sing songs and play games of chance. It's also traditional to hand out Chanukah gelt (gold or silver coins) to the children and eat foods fried in oil (to commemorate the miracle of the oil).

One of the games of chance is played with a dreidel. "Originally the dreidel was not connected with Chanukah in any way. The German Christians also had the custom of spinning a top on Christmas eve. The Germans borrowed the game from the Greeks and Romans. The gift giving and a lot of other stuff were borrowed from the Christians."

The dreidel is a four-sided top with these Hebrew letters printed on it:


"These letters represent the words "NES GODAL HAYAH SHAM" and translate into A Great Miracle Happened There.

Everyone in the game starts with 10-15 tokens (nuts, raisins, matchsticks, pennies). Each player puts one of these into the middle (called the pot). The dreidel is spun by one player at a time. Whether he wins or loses depends on which face of the dreidel is up when it falls.

Nun means nisht or "nothing." Player does nothing.

Gimmel means gantz or "all." Player takes everything in the pot.

Hey means halb or "half." Player takes half of what is in the pot.

Shin means shtel or "put in." Player adds two objects to the pot.

When only one object or none is left in the pot, every player adds one. When an odd number of objects are in the pot, the player rolling heh, "half" takes half the total plus one. When one person has won everything the game is over."

(To play a computerized dreidel game go to Computerized Dreidel Game)

Three of the foods most associated with Hanukkah are: Latkes (potato pancakes), Gelt (coin shaped chocolates), and Sufganiot (powdered jelly doughnuts).



6 large potatoes, scrubbed clean 1 large onion
3 eggs 1/2 c matzah meal
2 teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon pepper
dried parsley 1 teaspoon pepper
garlic powder 1/2 teaspoon pepper
canola oil


1.Chop onion finely in food processor or by hand. 2.Grate potatoes in food processor or by hand. (You can leave the potato skins on if you like, as long as you scrub the potatoes well.) 3.Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. 4.Heat canola oil in frying pan. 5.Form potato pancakes with your hands, keeping them thin and approximately 3"-4" in diameter. Fry latkes at medium-high heat until each side is golden brown. Drain on layers of newspaper covered with paper towel.

Serve with applesauce and sour cream! Enjoy!


Chanukah also means "education" and it was customary for community officials to gather together to try to find ways to make learning the Talmud more fun for the kids. Hence the handing out of silver and gold coins (sounds familiar, doesn't it parents?? *giggle*).

You can purchase gelt in stores. Small chocolate "coins" are wrapped in silver or gold foil. It is also fun to make gelt with your children. This is an easy recipe for fudge, which you can then cut into the shapes you want and wrap in foil. Please note that the pieces of fudge will need to be refrigerated.

3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips 1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 teaspoon salt


1.Combine chocolate chips and condensed milk in pyrex bowl and heat in microwave for 1 minute. Stir. If more time is required, continue heating in microwave in increments of 10 seconds. 2.Add vanilla and salt and stir. 3.Spread into pyrex dish which has been coated with a layer of waxed paper. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour. 4.Cut fudge into desired shapes and wrap in foil. Refrigerate fudge.


Most of us lack the fortitude and patience for making our own doughnuts and take the Dunkin' Donuts route to enjoying this tradition. However, if you are especially ambitious, here's a recipe for making your own doughnuts. We learned the age-old secret of how one gets the jelly into sufganiot from our cousins in Netanya, who make them every year for Chanukah: The jelly is injected into the doughnuts after they are cooked.


1-1/2 cups flour 2-1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water 1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 cupt sugar
2 tablespoons oil oil for frying (3 inches deep in pan)
confectioner's sugar


1.Mix together half the water with yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar. Allow to sit so that yeast activates. 2.Add the rest of the sugar, salt, egg, and 2 tablespoons oil. 3.Put flour in a large bowl and pour the yeast mixture into the flour and combine well. Add the remainder of the water and mix well. 4.Cover the bowl with a damp dish towel and allow to rise in a warm place for one hour. 5.Heat oil in a deep frying pan or pot until small bubbles rise the surface. You can test the oil by dropping a small piece of bread into it. If it sizzles and bubbles, the oil is ready. 6.Scoop a tablespoon of dough and very carefully, lower it into the oil. (Don't drop the dough into the oil or it will splatter into your face!) The doughnuts will puff up and eventually float to the top of the pan. Turn them with a slotted spoon several times and cook until they are golden brown on all sides. 7.Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on several layers of paper towel with newspaper underneath. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar. 8.When sufganiot are cool, inject with jelly. (The syringes used for administering medicine to young children can be used, but better ones are available at cooking supply stores.)

(Sources used: Chanukah On the Net - The Menorah, Your guide to celebrating the festival of lights, The Story of Hanukkah, Latkes, Religious Objects - Ner Tamid, Shabbat 21b on Chanukah, Virtual Jerusalem Presents...Chanukah '97: Backgrounder)

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