Updated: Feb 12, 2022
It’s early December. Guess what? Hanukkah is here - super early this year. It started November 28th 2021 and lasts for eight nights. Our book is, The Story of Hanukkah by David A. Adler. It explains WHY we have this holiday and why it lasts for more than a week. The story begins by explaining that long ago, the Jewish people lived in peace in the Jewish homeland, called Judea. On holidays they went to a mountain top in Jerusalem where they visited the beautiful and sacred temple, called the House of God. The book describes how “Inside was a ner tamid a light that always burned.” However, the Jews did not rule their land. It was ruled by the Greeks. One day a new leader of the Greeks, Antiochus, destroyed the city of Jerusalem and killed thousands of Jews. Anyone who lit Sabbath candles, studied Jewish law or did not bow down to Greeks idols was put to death.
Mattathias, an old Jewish priest, refused to bow down to idols. When he died, his son Judah became the leader of the Jewish people, Judah the Maccabee. This means the “hammer.” The people who fought with him were called Maccabees. The Greeks had horses, and bows and arrows, and there were six armed Greek soldiers to every Maccabee, but still the Maccabees prevailed over Antiochus’ army. When the Maccabees saw the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed and filled with garbage, they cried. Then they cleaned it, built a new alter, new gates and new doors.
The book explains that, “When it came to lighting the ner tamid, they only had one small jar of oil, enough to burn for one day—But that oil burned for eight days, long enough for more oil to be prepared.” With the ner tamid lit, the temple once again became the House of God. The story tells us that Judah declared on the same day every year, the 25th of Kislev, an eight day holiday would begin. It’s called “Hanukkah” which means “rededication,” the celebrating of the rebirth of the great temple. This happened 2,000 years ago.
So, how do we celebrate Hanukkah today? Well, for one, we light a candle all eight nights on a special candle holder called a menorah or Chanukiah. That’s why we call Hanukkah the Festival of Lights. Jewish people light candles to honor the miracle of the oil lasting for eight nights, instead of one. The book also points out that, in addition to the miracle of the oil was the defeat of the big Greek army, with the odds so against us.
So, Hanukkah is about miracles, and today’s celebrations are FUN!!! One tradition is to eat potato pancakes fried reminding us of the miracle of the ner tamid’s oil. Also, some families exchange gifts on each of the eight nights. That’s right! That means eight gifts, a gift for each night! Also, there’s a famous game Jewish children play, called dreidel which involves a spinning top. At the end of The Story of Hanukkah there is a recipe for potato pancakes and instructions for how to play dreidel.
Overall, because you are Jewish, dear Elena, you will discover that many Jewish holidays are about Jews fighting for religious freedom. That means that throughout our history, Jews often have needed to stand up against others to continue to live as Jews and believe in one God. That is a very important, Elena, standing up for what you believe in order for your culture to survive over 2,000 years. Mommy wants you to stand up for what you believe in all aspects of who you are. That means standing up for the people you love, your family or friends, and so importantly, to do the right thing. At four years old, your teachers and friends at school know you to be very independent and march to the beat of your own drum. Mommy cherishes how beautifully strong you already are. I love that heroic quality in you.
Happy Hanukkah, my angel! You are my miracle.