Kindling the lights of Chanukah

Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2007


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  Olivia Gottesman lights her menorah on the 5th night of Chanukah.

Menorahs are lit to remember the miracle that happened over 2,000 years ago.

From December 4th through the 12th this year the Jewish Festival of Lights Chanukah, also spelled Hanukkah or Hannukah, was celebrated around the world. On the Kenai Peninsula families gathered on the 5th night of Chanukah to light their family menorahs and partake of traditional foods such as potato latkes and play the popular dreidel game. One of the best known symbols of Chanukah is the dreidel. A dreidel is a four sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The four letters are:


These letters mean "A Great Miracle Happened There.” In Israel the dreidel is a bit different in that their letters mean "A Miracle Happened HERE!" dreidel is also a popular game played during the Holiday. Players use pennies, nuts, raisins, or chocolate coins (gelt) as tokens or chips. The player spins the dreidel. When the Dreidel stops, the letter that is facing up decides the spinner’s fate.

The history of Chanukah goes back nearly 2,300 when the Syrian-Greek leader, Antiochus IV, attempted to force the Jews in Israel to assimilate completely and to renounce their religion and culture. Judah Maccabee led the revolt against the Syrian-Greek army and was victorious, despite the fact that the Jewish army was greatly outnumbered.


Olivia Gottesman lights her menorah on the 5th night of Chanukah.

The Chanukah celebration of lighting the menorah traces its origin to a miracle that occurred after the victory of the Maccabees. The Temple in Jerusalem had been defiled by the invading Syrian-Greek army. It was traditional to light a special lamp in the Temple, called a menorah, with olive oil, but all of the vials of oil were made impure, with the exception of one. According to Chanukah history, the one vial of oil burned for eight days until pure oil could be obtained for the holy Temple. In gratitude, the Jews began lighting small menorahs in their homes to commemorate this miracle.

The Chanukah menorah is called a HANUKIYAH. It has nine candle holders. There are eight candles, one for each night of Chanukah. The ninth is called the SHAMASH, or servant candle. The Shamash is used to light the other eight candles. The Shamash is lit first and then is used to light the other candles. The candles are placed in the menorah from right to left. But when the candles are lit, you light from left to right

“What I remember the most about Chanukah in my home when I was growing up was being with my mother and father, lighting our menorah, and celebrating with foods like potato latkes eaten with apple sauce and sour cream. Here tonight it was very meaningful for me to have our local congregation in my home to express our oneness,” commented Alison Gottesman. While gifts are usually given to children on each night of Chanukah, Alison says the holiday has not become so commercialized and children’s gifts are usually books, candies, and small toys, “No I-pods or cell phones, at least not here in Kenai,” she said.

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