image Photo: Flash90

Israel celebrates Hanukah

The eight-day holiday is marked on the Hebrew calendar date of 25 Kislev. This year it is taking place 18-26 December, coinciding with Christmas. It is marked with the lighting of one candle on a 9-branch candelabrum, known as hanukkiah or a menorah; with the center shamash candle used to light the others.

By Erin Viner

Hanukah, also known as Chanukah or the Festival of Lights, commemorates the miracle performed by God in the recovery of Jerusalem and subsequent rededication of the Second Temple at the beginning of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century BC.

The ‘miracle of Hanukah’ relates to the cleansing of the Temple after it had been defiled by the Greek army, with only enough oil found to provide light for one night. According to the Talmud religious text, “yet a miracle was wrought therein, and they lit [the lamp] therewith for eight days. The following year these [days] were appointed a Festival with Hallel and thanksgiving” (Shabbat 21b). Hallel is the recitation of Psalms 113–118 on Jewish holidays as an act of praise and thanksgiving.

Modern traditions to mark the occasion include the spinning of dreidel tops, as well as the consumption of jelly doughnuts and potato pancakes, called sufganiot and latkes, respectively.

Sharing on social media a photo lighting the first candle, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid wrote: “Hanukkah is not just holidays where you celebrate what happened, but also our opportunity to stand here today and say that we are part of this wonderful thing – with Israel , Israeli history and Judaism. Happy Hanukah!”

In a special video greeting to Jewish communities around the world wishing one and all a Happy Hanukah, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said, “as Jews around the world gather with family and friends this Hanukah in the warmth and light of togetherness, I’d like to share with you my warmest wishes, with all of you, from the President’s home in Jerusalem.”

Saying that the Hanukah story “is all about people leaning into their own truths, and inspiring each other to stay connected,” he emphasized, “Dear friends, this hour too brings with it its own challenges and its own calling. Within our Jewish family, we are all being asked to recall what keeps us whole and committed to our own common destiny. “

Turning to concern over the emergence of the most right-wing government in Israel under Prime Minister Designate Benjamin Netanyahu, the President observed, “”It’s no secret that the recent elections in Israel have left many Jews around the world asking real questions about belonging with our own collective. This is natural, and as Israel’s President, I welcome these earnest voices, which show just how much Israel means to all of us. I would like to remind us that reckoning with the tough questions has always been part of the Jewish story and the Jewish way.”

President Herzog reminded the public that, “Jewish tradition has always valued conversation, debate, because it allows us to learn from each other and work through the difficult questions, so that we can grow stronger, together. I believe that if we can put aside our reflexive reactions and show up with a willingness to honestly listen to each other, we will find that our many voices—both within Israel and between our Jewish communities—are our greatest strength.”

He then concluded his message, saying, “My dear friends, let us remember this Hanukah that our differences can make us actually stronger. On a menorah with eight candles, there is room for us all. I wish you all a beautiful, illuminating, warm, and joyful Hanukah. Chag Hanukah Sameach (Happy Hanukah Holiday!)”

That message was later echoed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Speaking to over 100 reporters gathered at the opening gala night and Hanuka-lighting ceremony of the annual Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem, Gantz said, “The ties that were forged between us over 3000 years ago, are stronger than any single leader, government, or event. It is the responsibility of both the government of Israel and Jewish leaders around the world to recognize and integrate all the streams of Judaism. Only united, can we ensure our continuity and our resilience in Israel and around world.”