Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Happy Chanukah.. er...Hannukah..er.. Hanukkah

As you can see, there are many ways to spell Chanukah. This is because some sounds in the Hebrew language are difficult to translate literally into one version in written English. But no matter how you spell it, this is a very special celebration.

You may not realize that the Jewish holiday of Chanukah celebrates, among other things, freedom from religious and ideological persecution; freedom of belief, and the right to worship in a 'temple', or sacred space, of one's choosing. It also celebrates a miracle (more on that below the video).

I want to wish all my Jewish friends a very happy Chanukah. And here to do it is Adam Sandler, singing his famous "Hannukah Song". Enjoy!

Those of the Jewish faith celebrate the holiday of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. Because people today use a "western" calendar, the day Chanukah officially begins varies from year to year, but generally lands near the end of November to the end of December. This year the 8-day celebration began at sundown on Dec. 11.

This eight-day festival of rededication is a favorite of Jewish people everywhere. During this time, there are many festivities and get-togethers, friends and families entertain, special games are played, certain foods are consumed and gift giving occurs.

Over 2,300 years ago, in 165 BCE, Judah the Maccabee defeated the Syrian king Antiochus after three years of fighting, drove the Syrians out of Judeah and finally regained control of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. But they found the Temple in ruin - everything had been destroyed and desecrated by the Syrians. Undeterred, the people cleaned the temple, removed and destroyed the pagan artifacts that had desecrated it, and after all was completed they prepared to rededicate it and, thus, spiritually renew it. This was on the 25th day of the month of Kislev.

The Maccabees wanted to commemorate this 'rebirth' by lighting 'Ner Hatamid' (literally 'the candle of eternity'), the Holy Light of the Eternal, symbolized in the act of lighting pure, consecrated olive oil that would then burn as does the eternal light of the soul. To the worshippers' dismay, they found that all of the oil vessels in the temple had been polluted by substances repugnant to the Jewish faith. All but one. This one lamp contained holy oil and still had the High Priest's seal. But it had only enough oil to burn for one day.

The group of believers lit the lamp anyway and were rewarded with a miracle: the oil lasted for eight days. This allowed the priests to prepare new supplies of holy oil and to continue to cleanse the Temple.

Chanukah is a celebration of this miracle and of the victory over the Syrians which led to the re-dedication of the Jerusalem Temple. In honor and celebration of this miracle the Jewish people eat foods cooked in oil for all 8 days of Chanukah.

The most important observance associated with Chanukah is the kindling of the Chanukah lights on the Menorah or Hanukiah, a seven- or nine-branch candelabrum. On each night one more light is kindled, beginning with one candle on the first night of Chanukah and ending with eight on the final evening. The lighting is accompanied by the chanting of appropriate blessings and the singing of songs. The ninth branch is reserved for the shamash, the servant light, which is lit first and used to kindle the other lights of the Menorah.

The two foods that are symbolic to Chanukah are oil and dairy foods. The oil is in remembrance of the one pure jar of olive oil that lasted for eight days. The dairy foods are eaten in honor of the salty cheese that Judith fed to the enemy Holofernes, who was keeping the Jewish city, Bethulia, under siege. The salty cheese made Holofernes so thirsty that he drank a large amount of wine. When he fell into a drunken sleep, Judith cut his head off with a sword, thus saving Bethulia!

I ought to have posted a recipe, I suppose (I have a good one for latkes!), but my best wishes will have to do this year!
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain