How Do You Spell “Chanukkah”?
December 18, 2011 by Aviva Getschel
The Hebrew word חנוכה or חנכה means dedication, but the holiday is often called the “Festival of Lights.”
The story of Chanukkah begins in strife.
Antiochus, a Greek who was king of Syria, marched with an army of soldiers into the kingdom of Judea, home to many Jews. He insisted that the Jews worship the Greek gods rather than the God they worshipped. When the Jews refused to worship the Greek gods, the soldiers attacked the Temple in Jerusalem and killed countless Jews. They stole holy objects because they were made of precious metals and encrusted with jewels. They even broke the sacred lamp, called the menorah, that stood in front of the holy ark that held the Torah—a scroll with the Old Testament copied down for ages by special scholars.
The lamp’s flame, which always burned brightly, went out. This “Ner Tamid,” the “Eternal Light” represents the spirit of God that accompanies Jews when they pray, which was never supposed to go out. The shamash was a special position in the Temple whose only duty was to keep that flame alive. Specially made pure olive oil was the only kind that could be used. The soldiers dumped the oil all over the floor. As a last insult, they let pigs roam in the Temple. Religious Jews do not eat pork.
The king forbid the Jews from worshiping their one God and said all Jewish men must shave their beards (a prohibition in the Torah) and wear the immodest clothing of the Greeks.
One old man, Matisyahu, wanted to fight to take back the Temple. He went with his five sons into the wilderness, where other families joined them. The men began to fight the enemy anywhere—and in any way—they could.
Matisyahu became sick. He named one of his sons, Judah the Maccabee, the leader of the fighting band. For two years the Jews fought their enemy. The Greeks had war elephants, and one of Judah’s brothers, Eliahu, got crushed in a battle by an elephant. After many hard battles, the Jews recaptured Jerusalem, their holy city and the site of their Temple. The Jews were free! This is one of the miracles of Chanukkah.
One of the first tasks of the Jews was to clean up, or ‘dedicate’ the Temple. They restored the holy lamp—the menorah—but found only enough pure olive oil (the only kind they could use with such a sacred instrument) to last one day. It would take them eight days to make more oil, yet the flames of the menorah burned steadily for all eight days. With each passing day, the flames grew brighter.
From then on, every year at that time, Jews have celebrated with the Festival of Lights on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev. Candles are lit at sundown for eight nights in a row. Today’s menorahs, called “chanukkiahs” have nine branches. Eight hold candles or oil cups; the ninth branch is for the shamash, or servant light, which is used to light the other eight candles.
For me, the warm light of the fire and my family’s voices rising with mine as we sing the blessings for the holiday are reminders of how thankful I am that the Maccabees fought so I can be free.
Of course, no Jewish holiday would be complete without food! We eat ‘latkes,’ a Yiddish word that really just means a hash brown. We fry them in oil to remember the miracle of the oil in the Temple.
In Israel, a special Chanukkah treat is sufganiyot, jelly-filled doughnuts. There are Hebrew and English songs celebrating the miracle of Chanukkah that any young Jewish child knows. This year, 2011, Chanukkah starts at sundown on December 20th until sundown of December 27th.
Hot, fried potato cakes are a delicious, traditional food for the “Festival of Lights”.
The word “latke” [laht-kuh] is a Yiddish word meaning “pancake or fritter.” Latkes today are made of potatoes (kartofls), onions (tzibeles), eggs (ays), and salt and pepper (zalts un feffer), and are fried in olive oil (eylbirt). They are THE Chanukkah food, served with sour cream and applesauce.
Original latkes were cakes of curd cheese fried in butter or olive oil, but as Jews began to migrate into Eastern Europe, butter and oil grew very precious, and chicken fat was used. Since Jews do not eat meat and milk products together, latke batter was made of buckwheat or potatoes by the Middle Ages.
The Latke Song (Debbie Friedman)
I am so mixed up that I cannot tell you
I’m sitting in this blender turning brown
I’ve made friends with the onions and the flour
And the cook is scouting oil in town.
I sit here wondering what will ‘come of me
I can’t be eaten looking as I do
I need someone to take me out and cook me
Or I’ll really end up in a royal stew.
Chorus: I am a latke, I’m a latke
And I’m waiting for Chanukkah to come (repeat).
Every holiday has foods so special
I’d like to have that same attention too
I do not want to spend life in this blender
Wondering what I’m supposed to do.
Matzah and charoset are for Pesach
Chopped liver and challah for Shabbat
Blintzes on Shavuot are delicious
And gefilte fish no holiday’s without.
It’s important that I have an understanding
Of what it is that I’m supposed to do
You see there are many who are homeless
With no homes, no clothes and very little food.
It’s important that we all remember
That while we have most of the things we need
We must remember those who have so little
We must help them; we must be the ones to feed.