Maspeth living room is transformed into a Thanksgiving
dining room that can seat visiting family. Tribune
photo By Brian M. Rafferty
of the Oil:
Hanukkah Is A Religious Renewal
By Melissa Plata
The word Hanukkah translates to "rededication," and is often referred to as the Festival of Lights. This annual celebration is the most widely recognized Jewish holiday, though, like its seasonal Christian counterpart, it is not considered the most important.
The menorah or candelabrum is an essential Hanukkah icon that represents the history of this eight-day commemoration that over 11 percent of Queens' residents identify with.
According to tradition the menorah became a staple of this popular holiday because in order to observe this occasion the oil needed to burn symbolic candles. Centuries ago oil was particularly scarce and there was only enough to burn one candle through the night, yet inexplicably a single candle burned for eight days making Hanukkah the longest holiday celebration in the United States.
This historic holiday dates back to the reign of Alexander the Great who conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine but did not impose a ruling against religion; he allowed the people under his command to practice freely without repercussions. This benevolent ruling was challenged more than a century later by his successor Antiochus IV, who immediately anointed a Hellenistic priest to the temple banishing the right to practice Judaism. The massacring of Jews began along with the defiling of the Temple where pigs were sacrificed on the altar.
It wasn't long before two groups opposed this barbaric ruling: One group was led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah Maccabee, and the second was a religious traditionalist group known as the Chasidim who were associated with the Pharisees. They joined forces in a massive revolt against the attack of the Hellenistic Jews. The fight for religious freedom was won by the brave Jewish warriors and the Temple was rededicated. The faith and action that was displayed centuries ago is the nucleus of this holiday and should be a personal reflection for the new year. Without this uprising Hanukkah would have never came to be and Jews would have either had to convert or pay the ultimate price for their faith.
Even though revolution is a fundamental part of the holiday's history the celebration is a reflection of the miracle of the oil not war since the Jewish faith does not glorify war.
Today Hanukkah is an upbeat and exciting celebration that Jewish children look forward to all year. They traditionally receive one gift for every night that the oil burned, and enjoy games like spin the dreidel a top that has four sides engraved with a Hebrew letter on each side - nun, gimel, hey, and shin - meaning "a great miracle took place there."
Along with games and reuniting with family, parts of the celebration include traditional foods that date back to the miracle of the oil like the latkes (potato pancakes) and soofganiot (doughnuts). The emphasis on fried food is significant because it is a reminder of the miracle of the oil. Everything from the burning of the candles, to the food and games represent Hanukkah's religious essence as a reflection of the everyday pursuit of a higher power and human ethics.