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The annual eight-day “festival of lights”
Pronounced in Hebrew “Chah-noo-kah” with the accent on “cha”; in popular parlance as “Hah-nah-kah”.(Remember the “ch” sound is guttural and not ch as in chair .)  This holiday seems to be spelled a million ways! You’ll see Chanukah orHanukah or Hanukkah or Chanukkah.

Chanukah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the oppressive rule of Antiochus and the Syrio-Greeks who had conquered Israel in the 2nd century BCE. Antiochus had outlawed the main precepts of Judaism and had decreed that idolatrous practices be instituted at the Temple, defiling the altar. Led by Judah, the small Maccabee army won, and they rededicated the altar. The Talmud relates that when they came to light the Temple candelabra (Menorah) there was only enough oil for one day, but it miraculously lasted for eight days. An eight day festival of lights was instituted to remember not only this military victory, but the spiritual lesson of keeping Judaism alive even in dark times, fighting the denial of our unique tradition, and keeping faith that miracles can happen! 

The 25th of the Hebrew month Kislev, which usually falls somewhere between November and December. 

The festival of Chanukah actually does not appear in the Torah. It is based on both the  Book of Maccabees (found in the Apocrypha) and the Talmud.

Chanukah is a home-based celebration. An eight-branched menorah called a Chanukiah is lit each evening at sunset. (On Shabbat the Shabbat candles are lit AFTER the Chanukiah.) The Chanukiah has one central or taller candle (the ninth) called the “shamash” which is used to light all the others. You light the newest candle  first, i.e. light from the left of the Chanukiah, adding one new candle each night. (The blessings and choreography appear below.) It is traditional to put the Chanukiah in your window facing the street in order to “publicize the miracle.” Some families light one Chanukiah for each person, and some use olive oil and wicks as well as candles to remind them of the miracle of the oil. Children play the game of dreidel which is a spinning top, and gifts can be exchanged.

Latkes (potato pancakes fried in oil) with applesauce and/or sour cream; today there are many modern versions of latkes made of everything from zucchini to rice! The point is to eat something fried in oil. In Israel the tradition is to eat jelly donuts (sufganiot.) There is also a tradition of eating cheese because of the story of Judith, a pious woman who was able to trick the general Holofernes by feeding him cheese, making him thirsty so he drank wine and fell asleep, and then killing him, bringing inspiration to the beleaguered Jews. 

Since Chanukah is not actually a “chag” (Torah-ordained holiday in which we do no work) we generally do not say “chag sameach” as in other holidays like Sukkot or Pesach. Instead we add the word “urim” (lights) and say “Chag Urim Sameach”. In English is is appropriate to just say “Happy Chanukah.” Chanukah is often put together with the winter festivals of other religions but it has nothing to do either religiously or historically with them, except that it falls at that time of year. It’s important to remember  Chanukah has its roots in a revolution against assimilation!


Lighting the Menorah

The special Chanukah menorah (called a Chanukiah) holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shamash (servant) at a different height. 
The candles are put in from the right. The shamash candle is lit and the blessings are recited: 1.l'hadlik ner (a general prayer over candles), 2. she-asah nisim (a prayer acknowledging miracles at this time), and only on the first night, 3. she-hechianu (a prayer of thanking for reaching this special time). After reciting the blessings, the candles are lit using the shamash candle, and the shamash candle is placed in its holder. 

Each night an additional candle is added: one for first night, two for second night, three for third night, etc. The new candle is added from right to left (like the Hebrew language). Candles  are lit from left to right (because you begin with the newer thing first). Remember: Light from the Left. The candles should burn out on their own. 

The Blessings


1) Baruch ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Chanukah.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the Chanukah lights.



2) Baruch ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam, she'asah nisim la'avoteinu, bayamim ha'hem baz'man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who performed wonderous deeds for our ancestors in days of old at this season.


3) On the first  night only, add:
Baruch ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam, She'hecheyanu, vekiyemanu vehigi'anu laz'man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.

Click here to HEAR the blessings chanted!

The Dreidel


Sevivon is the Hebrew name for dreidel, the popular Chanukah game: a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side - Nun, Gimmel, Heh and Shin. Outside of Israel, the letters stand for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham - "A Great Miracle Happened There." In the Land of Israel, a Pey is in place of the Shin, meaning Nes Gadol Hayah Po - "A Great Miracle Happened Here". The letters also (conveniently) stand for the Yiddish words Nisht ("nothing"), Gantz ("all"), Halb ("half") and Shtell ("put"), which tell us how the game is played.

The game begins by each player taking a supply of pennies, nuts or chocolate "gelt" and contributing some into the "pot". Each player in turn spins the dreidel. When the dreidel stops, the latter facing up determines what you need to do. If it lands on Nun, "nothing" happens. If it lands on Gimmel - you "get" everything in the pot (and then each player contributes more). If the dreidel lands on the Heh - then "Half" is taken from the pot. If it lands on Shin or Pey, - you "Put" something into the pot.

How did the dreidel come to be part of Chanukah? Although the four sided spinning top is actually a traditional European toy, legend has it that when Antiochus ruled over Israel and outlawed the study of Torah, many Jews defiantly continued to study, doing so in secret. In order to hide their true activity, they would keep a dreidel at hand. If they were found by Antiochus’ troops, they would stop discussing Torah and pretend to play dreidel. With the dreidel as a tool of rebellion, the study of Torah was kept alive.


8 Gifts? How to Make it Meaningful:


CLICK HERE to read Rabbi Goldstein's "8 suggestions for 8 meaningful gifts."



Potato Latkes, courtesy of  Bonnie Stern

Our member Bonnie Stern writes in The National Post: "You have to love a holiday that prizes foods fried in oil above all else. That’s Hanukkah for you — one of the happiest and most delicious of all Jewish holidays. Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days instead of only one, when the Temple was rededicated more than 2,000 years ago. Although there are many different Hanukkah traditions throughout the world, foods cooked in oil — usually latkes (pancakes) or sufganiyot (donuts) — are always included.

Like many traditional foods, there are lots of versions of potato latkes. Here are three — my all-time favourite with finely grated potatoes; one with coarsely grated potatoes and, finally, one that’s a little different, made with cooked potatoes and just a little oil. Latkes are traditionally topped with sour cream, thick yogourt, or applesauce, but if you want things fancier, top them with smoked salmon, thinly sliced rare roast beef or caviar."

I serve these hot out of the pan with sour cream or homemade applesauce. 
- 1 medium onion, cut into chunks
- 2 eggs
- 3 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (about 1½ lb/ 750 g)
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- 3 tbsp cornflake crumbs or matzo meal
- ½ cup unflavoured vegetable oil
- applesauce or sour cream
1. Chop onions on/off in food processor. Add eggs and blend. Add potato chunks and process on/off until potatoes are chopped/grated into eggs and there are no large chunks. Do not purée. Mix in salt, pepper and cornflake crumbs. (To do this by hand, combine finely chopped onions with eggs in a bowl and grate potatoes into eggs. Add salt, pepper and cornflake crumbs.)
2. Heat about ¼ inch oil in a large non-stick skillet. Add batter by tablespoons, flattening with the back of a spoon. Cook until browned and crisp, turning only once. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining batter. If pan seems dry, add additional oil between batches and heat before adding more batter.
3. Serve with applesauce or sour cream. Makes about 20 pancakes

You can see more latke recipes from Bonnie here.


Tue, February 27 2024 18 Adar I 5784