At the darkest time of the year the flame from the Hanukkah candles placed in the menorah bring light into the world, according to Rabbi Avrom Rapoport of Chabad of Ventnor.
Hanukkah began at sundown Tuesday, Dec. 12, and Jews around the world celebrated by lighting the first candle in the menorah.
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Rapoport said Hanukkah is a celebration of the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks more than 2,200 years ago. The Syrian Greeks oppressed the Jews and forbade them to practice their religion. A small group called the Maccabees defeated Antiochus IV, and the victory made it possible for Jews to once again practice Judaism.
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In Jerusalem, the Jews went to worship at a temple that had been desecrated by the Greeks and found only enough kosher oil to last one day. Rapoport said it would take eight days for the Jews to get more oil, and by a miracle that one day’s supply of oil brought light to the temple for the eight days.
“That is the miracle of Hanukkah, bringing light to the darkness and symbolically bringing freedom to the Jews,” he said.
Rabbi David Weis, of Beth Israel Synagogue in Northfield, said Hanukkah comes at the darkest time of the year with its proximity to the winter solstice.
“It behooves us to bring light into the world,” he said.
The lighting of the candles is also symbolic of the triumph of light over darkness, goodness over evil and bringing light to other people through good deeds.
Hanukkah is a family celebration, Weis said.
“This welcoming light brings families together to celebrate and traditional foods of Hanukkah commemorate the oil. Most families will enjoy latkes, which are cooked in oil, with applesauce and sour cream and jelly doughnuts that are also cooked in oil,” he said.
As a child, his family, like most, had their celebration when they lit the first candle in the menorah, and each day of Hanukkah the menorah got brighter, Weis said.
“By the time we would light the fifth and sixth candle, it warmed my soul and filled the room with a beautiful light,” he said.
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Another tradition of Hanukkah is playing with a dreidel, which is a four-sided top. The Syrian Greeks forbade the Jews from studying the Torah together or practicing their religion, so when the Greeks would arrive, the Jews would hide the Torah and take out their dreidels, spinning them to pretend they were playing rather than studying religion.
Today's dreidels have a Hebrew letter on each of the four sides. The letters stand for the saying “Nes gadol haya sham,” which means “A great miracle occurred here.”
“We play dreidel to commemorate the miracle of Hanukkah,” Rapoport said.
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Beth Israel Sunday School had students doing Hanukkah projects last weekend. The younger students made Hanukkah gelt, or coins, from chocolate while the older students made Hanukkah cards for their parents and grandparents and menorahs out of Legos that will go home for family celebrations.
Hanukkah continues through Wednesday, Dec. 20. Each night families will gather and light another candle in the menorah to bring light into the world and commemorate the miracle of the oil bringing light for eight days.
A community menorah lighting is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12 at Chabad Chai Center at 6605 Atlantic Ave. in Ventnor. All are welcome to attend and learn more about Hanukkah.
For information see chabadac.com or call 609-622-8500.