SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. Starting at sunset Tuesday night, Lewisboro Jews will begin the eight-day-long celebration of Hanukkah, sometimes referred to as the Festival of Lights.
While probably the most widely-known of the Jewish holidays to those outside the faith, thanks mostly to its close approximation to Christmas, its not considered the most reverent.
Its not by any means the most important or meaningful of the Jewish festivals, said Rabbi Carla Friedman of the Jewish Family Congregation in South Salem.
Friedman notes that Hanukkahs observation can vary from year to year. While it begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, it can take place any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian, or secular, calendar.
Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Greeks in the year 167 BCE, Friedman explained. Judea had been conquered during time of Alexander the Great and when he died his empire was divided. The Seleucid took over Judea and made it conform to Greek values, which were in conflict with the Jews. The Greeks ran into mighty opposition when they introduced things that were abhorrent to Jewish population. Thats what sparked the uprising that resulted in the defeat of the Greeks and creation of a Jewish state.
Friedman said the Maccabees made a show of cleaning out the temple of things like statues of Greek emperors and rededicating it (Hanukkah means dedication).
The story that is told is that when they were cleaning out the temple they wanted to light the seven- branch candelabra, called a menorah, she said. Back then they used olive oil to light candles. When they cleaned out the temple, they found just one jug of olive oil that was supposed to last one day, but it lasted eight days, which allowed them to produce more olive oil.
Today, Jews light a candle on the menorah for eight straight days to signify the eight days that the oil lasted.
The rabbis who created the Talmud wanted it to be something spiritual and not a military victory, so the little jug of oil gained prominence, Friedman said. The theme of Hanukkah is, Not by power, not by might, but by spirit alone.
Friedman said Jews celebrate Hanukkah by eating foods cooked in oil to remind them of the oil in the temple. She said Europeans celebrated by eating latkes, while those in the Middle East celebrated by eating jelly donuts.
Now everybody eats both, she said.
Friedman said gift-giving was never meant to be a prominent part of the Hanukkah celebration.
When I was a kid we were given one gift; that was it. But as the Jewish population has been exposed to the same bombardment of advertisement that the Christians have it has encouraged some expansion of gift giving, she said. The gifts should not be an enormous costly thing; its not appropriate to the meaning of the holiday.
Friedman said Jews are encouraged, instead, to give to a charity or to place a grocery bag near the menorah and put a food item in it each night a candle is light. The bag of groceries can then be donated to a local shelter or food pantry.
While Hanukkah is a holiday mostly celebrated a home, there are services involved. The Jewish Family Congregation will hold its service on Friday, Dec. 23 at 7:30 p.m.
There are many wonderful Hanukkah songs and we will be signing them, Friedman said. The members of the choir will be present.
There will also be a latke contest. Congregants can bring in their latkes and have them tasted and tested by a panel of professional judges.
On the second night of Hanukkah, Wednesday, Dec. 21, JFC will hold a party for preschoolers from 5:30 to 7 p.m. This event is open to the public.
There will be lighting of candles and storytelling and arts and crafts project related to the holiday, the rabbi said.
Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.