The Commons
Life and Work

Chanukah begins on Dec. 8

Originally published in The Commons issue #181 (Wednesday, December 5, 2012).


BRATTLEBORO—On the night of Saturday, Dec. 8, the first of the eight candles of Chanukah will be lit.

As Chanukah falls near Christmas, many people mistakenly think that it is a Jewish version of Christmas. However, the meaning and origin of the two holidays are unrelated.

The Brattleboro Area Jewish Community (BAJC) will be celebrating Chanukah on Friday, Dec. 15, the last night of Chanukah, with “Latkes and Lights,” starting at 6 p.m. Bring your menorahs and candles to light. Then, as your prepared latkes are warming in the oven, there will be a brief service to welcome Shabbat. The service will be followed by stories, music, songs, dreidel-playing, and a potluck supper.

Bring cooked latkes and/or perhaps a salad to share (enough for your family plus four to six more). BAJC will provide applesauce, sour cream, and drinks.

Chanukah explained

In 165 B.C.E., Jews were prohibited, under penalty of death, from studying their sacred texts or celebrating Jewish holidays. Also, the holy Temple had been defiled with pagan rituals, and Jews had been ordered to worship other gods.

Maccabees, a small group of faithful Jews, managed to drive the Syrian army out of Jerusalem and reclaim their Temple. Within the Temple, there was a huge menorah, a seven-branched lamp stand, that had to be lit. This light was supposed to remain always lit within the Temple. But the sacred olive oil needed to burn in the menorah took eight days to prepare. And there was only a one-day supply of oil on hand.

The Maccabees decided to light the flame anyway. And, a great miracle is said to have occurred: The oil burned continuously for eight days, long enough for new oil to be purified. Therefore, Chanukah has been celebrated for eight days to recall the miracle when the menorah burned for eight days with only one day’s supply of oil in the Temple.

This Festival of Lights is marked by lighting chanukiot, special eight-branched candelabras with a ninth branch for a so-called “helper” candle, and playing with a dreidel, a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side representing the phrase “a great miracle happened there.” Also, latkes (potato pancakes) and soofganiyot (Chanukah doughnuts) are eaten on Chanukah, as they are fried in oil and symbolize the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days instead of one.

For more information on BAJC’s “Latkes and Lights,” please visit www.bajcvermont.org.


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