Tag Archives: hanukkah

Op-Ed: The meaning behind Chanukah


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BY RABBI YOSSI BLESOFSKY

Chanukah — the eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev — celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.

More than 21 centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G-d.

When they sought to light the temple’s menorah (the seven branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah (candelabrum) lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled.

The deeper message of the festival is that the oil represents the soul – the spark of G-d within us. Our enemies strive to defeat us any which way possible, through physical annihilation and spiritual assimilation. The miracle of Chanukah teaches us that ultimately we shall overcome. The soul can never be put down and defeated, and regardless of how bleak the situation may appear, light will ultimately overpower darkness.

On Chanukah we also add the Hallel and Al HaNissim in our daily prayers to offer praise and thanksgiving to G-d for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few… the wicked into the hands of the righteous.”

Chanukah customs include eating foods fried in oil — latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts); playing with the dreidel (a spinning top on which are inscribed the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, “a great miracle happened there”); and the giving of Chanukah gelt, gifts of money, to children.

Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky is the Director of the Chabad of Northeast Queens

Celebrating Chanukah


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BY RABBI STEVEN AXELMAN

Chanukah began this year at sundown on Tuesday, December 20 and ends at nightfall on December 28. Though based on the lunar calendar like all Jewish holidays, Chanukah always falls within a several week period in December.

The Hebrew word Chanukah (the “ch” is pronounced gutturally, not like the “ch” in “Charles”) is derived from the word for dedication, signifying the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 167 BCE, after it was destroyed by the Syrian-Greek emperor, Antiochus IV, whose rule extended over the land of Israel and who had tried to coerce the Jews to abandon their religious beliefs and practices.

Per Jewish tradition, the more powerful army of Antiochus was eventually defeated by the “Maccabees,” a small band of Jews who, with faith in God, fought back. Upon defeating the Greeks and regaining control of their Holy Temple, the Jews set out to re-dedicate it but found only enough pure olive oil to re-light the Menorah (seven-branched candelabrum as ordained in Exodus 25:31) for one day. However, they needed oil for eight days until new ritually pure olive oil could be produced or retrieved. A miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days.

The miracles of the unlikely victory of the smaller, less powerful army and the burning of the oil for eight days are therefore celebrated for eight days every year at the same time on the Jewish calendar.

The most important and best-known observance of Chanukah is the lighting of the Menorah, a candelabrum with nine branches. Although most Jews nowadays are fortunate enough to own a candelabra specifically for this observance, often quite beautiful and valuable, in poorer times a Menorah was fashioned much more crudely, including hollowing out part of a potato, filling it with oil and lighting it.

On the first night of Chanukah one candle is lit, adding one more candle each night, plus one extra candle known as the “Shamash,” so that on the eighth night there will be a total of nine candles burning. Originally, the Menorah was lit outdoors, but nowadays it is usually lit indoors, next to a window facing the street. In Israel, many still follow the custom of lighting the Menorah outdoors, encased in a special glass case so the candles will not be extinguished by the wind.

The Chanukah custom of eating oily foods to remember the miracle of the oil is generally observed by eating potato pancakes fried in oil, known as “latkes.” In Israel, the custom is to eat jelly donuts (Sufganiyot).

The game of “Dreidel” is widely played. “Dreidel” is derived from the Yiddish word for “spin;” in Israel the Hebrew word derived from spin, “Sevivon,” is the more common name. (Yiddish is derived mostly from German and was spoken by European Jews for hundreds of years. Hebrew is the Semitic language in which the Bible was written, used currently in Israel in a more modern form.)
A Dreidel is a four-sided top on which four Hebrew letters are written, an acronym that stands for “a great miracle happened there.” Dreidel is generally played for pennies, chips or regular money, with each letter signifying a different action, including winning the whole pot, half the pot, paying into the pot or doing nothing. The custom of playing dreidel is traditionally taught as commemorating the Jews pretending to play a game when they were in fear of being caught performing religious rituals.
The custom of giving of “Chanukah Gelt” has been linked to various sources, including the sharing of the booty from the battles against the Syrian-Greeks. Some trace it to as recently as the 16th century. I have never succeeded in finding a strong source for gift giving on Chanukah – but who would want to disprove such a wonderful custom.

Happy Chanukah and Happy Holidays to all!

Rabbi Steven Axelman, LCSW is the leader of the Whitestone Hebrew Centre located at 12-45 Clintonville Street. The Rabbi’s web site is web.me.com/haxelman.

Holiday Choral Concert by The Community Singers of Queens


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The Community Singers of Queens will be performing a holiday choral concert on December 17 beginning at 8 p.m. at the Church on the Hill, located at 167-07 35th Avenue in Flushing. The choir, which consists of 30 members, will perform a unique collection of Christmas and Hanukkah songs.
Tickets cost $10 and will be available for purchase at the Church on the Hill on December 17. For more information, visit http://www.csofq.org/.

Temple Tikvah to hold annual Holiday Fair, blood drive


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New Hyde Park’s Temple Tikvah will be holding its annual Holiday Fair on Sunday, December 11 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

A variety of reasonably priced items for children and adults will be available to purchase. Handcrafted jewelry, toys, books and gift items for Hanukkah and other occasions are some of the many highlights of the temple fair, which borders the tip of Nassau and Queens at 3315 Hillside Avenue. For more information, call 516-746-1120.

Temple Tikvah is also asking people to consider giving blood so that they can “help have a safe and adequate supply of blood in emergency rooms and hospitals.”

The Temple, located at 3315 Hillside Avenue, will be holding the blood drive on January 8 from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. For more information, call 516-746-1120.