Hanukkah 2009 begins Friday December 11 at sundown. What does Hanukkah, also spelled Chanukah, mean? What is the holiday all about? How can we have fun celebrating it? What’s a Menorah and how is it properly lit? What are latkes and where can a good recipe for this traditional Chanukah food be found? The answers to these questions are all right here!
1. What does Chanukah mean? The word Chanukah means dedication. It refers to the re-dedication and re-opening, in the year 164 Before the Common Era, of the Temple that stood in Jerusalem until the year 70 of the Common Era. Temple worship had been interrupted by a war between local Jews and colonial forces from the Seleucid empire to the north and east.
2. This Chanukah, liberate yourself spiritually. Whether you are Jewish or not, take a moment to consider those things to which you are dedicated. To what might you re-dedicate yourself with renewed commitment? To whom can you turn for support in doing so? As you do this, you will be following in the footsteps of Judah Maccabbee and the other ancient Chanukah heroes who asked those very questions, and found spiritual liberation when they answered them.
3. What is Chanukah all about? There are many versions of the story, they all involve miracles, and they all suggest that miracles are closer than we often imagine. The Talmud teaches, the miracle was that a small jar of oil used to light the Temple’s menorah (candelabrum) lasted eight days instead of only one. What resource, skill or passion lies within you, like the oil in the jar, just waiting to be released? Try letting it out and don’t be surprised if miracles happen!
4. How is the Menorah, or Chanukiah, lit?
Each night, in every home, on each of the eight nights of the holiday, at least one menorah is lit. Starting with a single light plus one used for kindling it, and adding one more on each succeeding night, the nine-branched candlestick is lit at sunset. Candles are added from right to left, like Hebrew is read, but we light from left to right – celebrating the new miracle of continued light on each successive night. The blessings that are recited include praising the One who provides the opportunity to light the lights, and praising the One who not only made miracles “then”, but makes them now.
5. Seeing the miracles all around us is the surest way to find new and even greater miracles in our lives. What Miracles have you witnessed this year? They don’t have to be supernatural or even all that big to count, they simply have to give you that sense that something unexpectedly wonderful happened. Share the stories of those miracles you have seen and I promise that more will come into your life.
6. Break out the gifts and let the games begin! Chanukah gift giving is a beautiful tradition practiced for many centuries at least. They don’t need to be big, but it’s never bad to share something with someone you love. And playing dreidel, the spinning top game is also traditional. But whether it’s dreidel or scrabble, try getting down on the floor with those younger than yourself and playing a game – it’s a gift you can give yourself this Chanukah.
7. Fry, fry again. On Chanukah the classic dishes are all about the oil. Recalling the oil that burns in the Menorah, fried foods are traditional on Chanukah and none more so than latkes – potato pancakes. Grate a few Idaho potatoes, squeeze out as much liquid from them as you can, add a finely minced small onion, a beaten egg for each 2-3 potatoes, a few tablespoons of flour to same, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat a quarter inch of oil in a pan and when it’s almost smoking, add spoonfuls of the mixture to the oil. Don’t crowd the pan and don’t move the cakes until they are fully cooked on the bottom. Fry the other side, remove from the heat and top as you like. Applesauce or sour cream are good choices.
8. Share the joy. Whether in person, on the phone or on-line, let Chanukah be your “excuse” to reconnect with a friend or members of your family. The light and warmth of the holiday candles are something we all need, and we will actually have more of each when we share them with others. Perhaps that is the greatest Chanukah miracle off all – the awareness that like the oil in that ancient jar found in the Temple, the more joy is shared with others, the more there seems to be for us.