Hanukkah is one of the quintessentially Zionist holidays. It is a holiday of freedom, celebrating the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians. It reaffirms the centrality of Israel and of Jerusalem in Jewish cultural life Without love of Israel and Jewish national existence, Hanukkah has no real meaning. Hanukah was was suppressed by the successors of the Maccabee dynasty, who were unfavorable to them, and remained a minor holiday for many years. Hanukkah, a celebration of national liberation and a military victory, did not fit well with the passive Diaspora culture of ultra-orthodox Jews. However, the holiday continued to be celebrated throughout the centuries and kept alive the embers of Jewish national feeling. With the rise of nationalism in the 19th century, and the rise of Zionism, Hanukkah assumed a new significance.
The two books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha tell the story of Hanukkah, which is verified in the main by external historical sources. The Seleucid Syrians had ruled Judea after the death of Alexander the Great. In 165 B.C., after a three-year struggle led by Yosef Matityahu and his sons, especially Judah Maccabee (Yehudah Hahmaccabee in Hebrew), the Jews in what is now Israel defeated the Syrian tyrant Antiochus IV ("Epiphanes"), who had insisted on the institution of state-sponsored paganism, forced Jews to bow down to idols, and desecrated the temple (Beyt Hamikdash in Hebrew) in Jerusalem. Antiochus dedicated a pagan altar in the temple, and had sacrifices made to an idol.
After hard fighting, the Maccabees liberated Jerusalem and entered the temple that was the center of Jewish religious and national life, symbolizing national liberation. They removed the idol that had been set there for pagan worship, cleansed the temple of pagan sacrifice and rededicated it. The date of Hanukkah, the 25th day of Kislev, was chosen because it was the anniversary of the dedication of the pagan alter.
The Maccabees issued coins and set up a dynasty, but some historians believe that Judea remained a semi-independent protectorate. In 164, "Judaeus Maccabeus" was recognized as a "friend of the Roman Senate and People," as recorded by Roman historians, but liberty was hard won in numerous battles. In the historical novel, My Glorious Brothers, the American writer Howard Fast dramatized the story of Hanukkah as a saga of national liberation.
Hannukah is also called the "Festival of Lights" ('Hahg Hah ooreem) and was very likely combined with a winter solstice holiday that had come before it. Other peoples and religions have winter solstice holidays lasting about 8 days, beginning at about the time of the Winter equinox, December 21 - the shortest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere, and often celebrated with lights. Holidays that are certainly or possibly related to the winter solstice in their origins include Christmas, the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia, and the new African American Kwanzaa holiday.
Hannukah is celebrated by eating foods fried in oil. European Jews eat latkes (a Yiddish word for potato and onion pancakes) and Israelis eat sufganiyot - a kind of cruller or hole-less doughnut like hush puppies familiar in the southern US. Sephardic Jews eat small cookies made of sugared fried batter. A game of chance called dreidel in Yiddish, using a four-sided top like those shown at left, is played as well. Some trace this game back to Roman and Greek games of chance played during Saturnalia, a holiday of pranks and games. Children get Hanukkah gifts, including money ("Hanukkah Gelt"), books or games.
Latkes (or Latkehs) and other fried dishes are traditional Hanukkah foods.
Shred potatoes fine and onions finely by hand or using a food processor. Mix with lemon juice and let them drain in a
colander. The lemon juice will prevent discoloration of the potatoes. Add the drained mixture to the egg and flour
Serve with apple sauce, sugar or sour cream.
More about Jewish Holidays
More about Hanukkah on this website: "Lighting Activities: Hanukkah and the Menorah"
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Adapted by permission from Middle East - MidEastWeb
Some photos courtesy of ajudaica
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