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Irish Christmas in America Returns December 10, 2023!

Hanukkah celebrates Jewish heritage, history, and an ancient miracle

Lisa Sturgis, KAWC

While some people are decking the halls and decorating their trees, Jewish members of our community are lighting menorahs, spinning dreidels, and rededicating themselves to their Hebrew traditions during the eight nights known as Hanukkah.

Also known as the Festival of Lights, the holiday recalls an historic victory in ancient times, and celebrates the miracle that followed.

We spoke with Fred Brown, the Secretary of the Board of Directors for Yuma’s Congregation Beth HaMidbar to learn more about the deeper meaning behind the festivities.

Hanukkah is a time for family, fun, and food.

But it’s also a time to for Jewish people around the world to remember their heritage and history.

The holiday dates to the second century, when the Maccabees revolted against their oppressors and took back their temple.

“The temple was desecrated by the Syrian-Greek rulers at the time. The Maccabee family, which was a Jewish family, rebelled against their rulers, reclaimed the temple, reconsecrated it, and, in reconsecrating the temple, they lit what is called the eternal light," Brown tells us.

However, the battle left the rebels short on supplies...

“And they found they only had enough oil for one day.”

Brown says, they had to get more or risk the light going out.

“What they did was, they sent a horseman to the nearest location where they could get oil, knowing full well that it was a four day ride on horseback, there and back, total of eight days, right?”

And, according to the Bible, that’s when something amazing happened.

“That one container of oil miraculously last eight days, ‘til the messenger got back with more oil, and that’s why Hanukkah last for eight days.”

Which also explains why the menorah plays a central role in the holiday. It's a candelabra with nine branches. One candle, the “shammash,” signifies the original’s used to light a new candle at sundown on each night of the celebration.

Brown explains the timing:

“All Jewish holidays start at sundown. There was dark before there was light in the Bible. When God created light, there had already been darkness, therefore, Jewish folks interpret the start of the day as being sundown.”

The festival’s date is also determined by tradition.

“The celebration of Hanukkah is held in the exact same date every year, using the Hebrew calendar, which is a lunar calendar, not a solar calendar. And it’s always started in the month of Kislev, an on the 25th of Kislev," Brown shares.

And it wouldn’t be a party without food.

Brown tells us what you might find on the menu.

“Since the celebration of Hanukkah is all around the miracle of the oil lasting eight days, anything cooked in oil is an appropriate food during the holiday celebration...has a tendency to be very fat.

Beyond the food and the flame and the ancient traditions, Brown tells us the holiday has an important historic significance that extends beyond the faith.

“The Macabee revolt against the rulers back then was the first event in recorded history of religious freedom."

And, Brown tells us, it has an even deeper meaning for the Jewish people.

“The Hebrew word Hanukkah stands for dedication, so it is interpreted now in English as dedication or rededication, to the concept of reclaiming your heritage, rededicating yourself to your heritage.”

Yuma has a small but dedicated Jewish community in Temple Beth HaMidbar. Its name means "House in the Desert." You can learn more about services at the temple's website.

Happy holidays to all our KAWC listeners, and to our Jewish friends, Hanukkah Sameach!