THE CLASSIC STORY...
Way back in 167 BCE, the Jews were living in the land of Israel, and were ruled by a Syrian Greek king named Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Antiochus wanted the Jews to assimilate into Hellenistic culture, so he outlawed three core Jewish commandments: circumcising male babies, observing the Sabbath, and studying Torah. He also desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem. A Jewish priest named Mattathias and his five sons--collectively known as the Maccabees, which means “hammers” — led a revolt against Antiochus, and though they were heavily outnumbered, they ultimately succeeded in driving out the Syrian Greeks and rededicating the Temple to God.
When the Maccabees were cleaning the Temple for rededication, they discovered that the oil used to light the huge lamp had almost all been desecrated. There was only enough oil to light the lamp for one night, but when they lit the lamp, the oil miraculously burned for eight days and nights.
To commemorate this miracle we light a nine pronged candelabra, adding one candle each night. We also eat greasy foods, because oil was part of the Chanukah miracle.
AND THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY...
The real Chanukah story is a little more complicated. Some Jews were happy to assimilate into Hellenistic culture, and the Maccabees declared war on those Hellenized Jews as much as on the Syrian Greeks.The Maccabees used guerilla warfare tactics in a bloody war that went on for years, and only one Maccabee survived to see the end of the war in 164 BCE. That year the war prevented the Jews from being able to celebrate the autumn festival of Sukkot, so they decided that Sukkot should be celebrated once they rededicated the Temple, which they did on the 25th of the month of Kislev. Sukkot lasts seven days plus one extra day for the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, so the new holiday of rededication (Chanukah) became an eight day holiday.
So where did the oil story come from? About 600 years later, the Talmud tells the story of the oil miraculously lasting for eight days to explain why it’s forbidden to fast on Chanukah. Many scholars believe that the story of the miracle was a later addition.
Candles are added to the hanukkiyah (menorah) from right to left but are kindled from left to right. The newest candle is lit first. (On the Shabbat of Hanukkah, light the Hanukkah lights first and then the Shabbat candles.) Light the shamash (the helper candle) first, using it to kindle the rest of the Hanukkah lights. As you do, say or sing:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haOlam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haOlam, she-asah nisim laavoteinu v’imoteinu bayamim hahaeim baz’man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who performed wonderous deeds for our ancestors in days of old at this season.
First Night Only
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu v'kiy'manu v'higiyanu laz'man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
Chanukah isn't the only winter holiday that uses candles to bring more light to a dark time of the year. People celebrate the African American holiday of Kwanzaa by lighting candles in a kinara for seven nights. Each night of Kwanzaa has a theme, including unity, self-determination, purpose and faith.
While Chanukah doesn't connect each night to a theme, here's some to explore as you're lighting your menorah.
Or (Light) - This year, the darkness of the winter feels especially foreboding. The glowing Chanukah candles have the power to comfort and give us hope for brighter days.
Ge’ulah (Liberation) - In the Chanukah story, the Maccabees revolt against the religious oppression of the Syrian Greeks. Following this summer’s conversations on race, Chanukah gives us an opportunity to revisit what liberation from oppression means today.
Nadivut (Generosity) - With many of our neighbors in need, we might skip a night of gift-giving and instead focus on generosity. And it ties into Kwanzaa’s third principle of Ujimaa.
Nisim (Miracles) - During Chanukah, we thank the Divine for the miracles performed on behalf of our ancestors. Our ancestors played an active role, and we too have the innate power to create miracles.
Cherut (Freedom) - Just as some Hellenistic Jews assimilated Greek customs into their Jewish lives, we have the freedom to choose an expression of Judaism that feels most authentic to us.
Simcha (Joy) - Put on your yarmulke, it’s time to (really) celebrate Chanukah. Decorate, listen to music and enjoy delicious fried foods. Rather than making latkes, I like buying fried chicken and jalebi, fried South Asian sweets that are easily found in my neighborhood.
Chanukah (Dedication) - On Rosh Hashanah, we set our intentions for the new year. If you need a refresh, Chanukah, which means dedication, is a perfect time to revisit and recommit.
Emunah (Faith) - Connecting with Kwanzaa’s final night, faith is a big part of Chanukah. The Maccabees had faith, even when they could not reach the Temple. And we too have faith that soon we’ll be able to gather again, safely.
Director’s Note: You can either read this skit free-form by going around the table and having everyone take turns, or you can assign parts, or you can just have two people take turns reading … whatever makes your Hanukkah kick-ass! If you’re going big, then you’ll want to include the following props: Salty cheese, a bottle of wine (Manischewitz is best), a wine glass and a plastic sword. Have fun!
MACCABEE: 19 lines
BAKER: 19 lines
JUDITH (A BEAUTIFUL JEWISH WIDOW): 10 lines
JUDITH’S MAID: 7 lines
HOLOFERNES (AN ASSYRIAN GENERAL): 9 lines
NARRATOR: 8 lines
NARRATOR: The setting is a battle during the Maccabee uprising against the Assyrian occupation of Judea, circa 168 B.C.E. Scene 1 takes place in the town of Bethulia, near Jerusalem.
MACCABEE: Hey there. I’m a Maccabee.
BAKER: Oh, wow. That’s my favorite cookie. Kind of a specialty of mine!
MACCABEE: No – not a macaroon – a Maccabee. Anyway, I’m here to tell you a cool Hanukkah story you may never have heard before – the story of Judith and the Salty Cheese.
BAKER: I’d rather hear a story about macaroons.
MACCABEE: Shush. You’ll like this story. So, around 168 B.C.E…
BAKER: Whoah – “B.C.E.?” What is that, some sort of boy band?
MACCABEE: No – it means “Before the Common Era.” Just think of it as the year 3593, because that’s what it was on the Jewish calendar. Anyway, during this time, the Jews were fighting to retake the land of Judea after it had been invaded by the Assyrians.
BAKER: The Syrians invaded our land?
MACCABEE: Not the Syrians – the Assyrians.
BAKER: What’s an Assyrian?
MACCABEE: The Assyrians lived in what is now northern Iraq, which used to be ruled by the Greeks.
BAKER: This is getting very confusing. Were we fighting the Assyrians, the Iraqis, or the Greeks?
MACCABEE: That’s not important right now! The point is, it was a seriously tough battle. There were only a few hundred Maccabees fighting thousands of Assyrians. And to make matters worse, the Assyrians had the meanest, toughest general we ever saw. His name was Holofernes.
BAKER: His name was what?
BAKER: That’s like the worst name ever. It sounds like a potted plant. Maybe that’s why he was so mean?
MACCABEE: Maybe. Anyway, his mission was to defeat the Jews. And it was working, too. Holofernes had cut off their food and water supply, and they were quickly running out of everything.
BAKER: Even macaroons?
MACCABEE: ENOUGH WITH THE MACAROONS! THERE ARE NO MACAROONS IN THIS STORY!
BAKER: Oh, OK. Sorry.
MACCABEE: All right, I’ll add some macaroons at the end if you’ll just let me get through this part.
MACCABEE: OK. Luckily for us, there was a beautiful Jewish woman named Judith. She was a widow who was tired of seeing her people oppressed by the Assyrians. So she hatched a plan.
JUDITH: I have hatched a plan! I shall go to see Holofernes, along with some salty cheese, a bottle of wine, and my trusty maid.
MAID: I’m the maid.
BAKER: Wait – why does Judith have a maid?
MACCABEE: Everyone had a maid in those days.
BAKER: But I mean like, if her people were oppressed and didn’t even have enough food and water, how did she have wine and cheese? And for that matter, how could she a afford a maid?
MAID: Excellent question.
MACCABEE: Quiet! Judith, I’m sorry. Please continue.
JUDITH: Thank you. I shall go with this salty cheese, some wine, and my trusty maid [SHOOTS BAKER A LOOK] who continues to work for me even though I can’t pay her right now. I may wind up dead, but I’ve got to try to save my people. But first, I need to put on some foxy clothes. Maid, fetch me that red backless Valentino and the black Manolo slingbacks.
MAID: These are her clothes. And yet she can’t afford to pay me.
NARRATOR: Judith and Maid exit.
BAKER: Wait – why is Judith putting on foxy clothes to take on an evil general? How is that going to… oh, I see where this is going.
NARRATOR: Judith and the Maid enter the Assyrian camp.
JUDITH: Yooo hooo… Holofernes!
HOLOFERNES: Who dares enter my camp? I shall smite you and make you rue the day you… [SPOTTING JUDITH]… whoah. Well, hello. You’re mighty foxy. Who are you?
JUDITH: Hi, I’m Judith. And you’re mighty handsome yourself… for an evil general who wants to starve my people to death, that is.
HOLOFERNES: Wow! Thanks! How about if you hang out here while I figure out how I’m going to kill every last one of those Jewish Maccabees?
JUDITH: That sounds perfect. But you know what? You look a little tired and hungry. Why don’t you come to my tent and rest while my maid whips you up a little snack?
HOLOFERNES: Your maid? [SPOTS MAID.] Oh, hey. I didn’t even notice you were here.
MAID: Story of my life.
HOLOFERNES: OK, well, I guess I could use a nosh.
NARRATOR: Holofernes and Judith go into her tent.
JUDITH: Maid, give the general some of my delicious cheese.
MAID: Yes, your majesty.
NARRATOR: Maid hands Holofernes a big piece of white cheese.
HOLOFERNES: Wow. This is delicious. Hey, this cheese is making me so thirsty.
JUDITH: Maid, give the general some of my delicious red wine.
HOLOFERNES: Oh, I really shouldn’t drink before going into battle.
JUDITH: Oh, don’t worry. I’m sure your army is going to be victorious. They’ve got you to lead them, and you’re such a big, strong hunk of a man.
MAID: I gotta admit, she’s pretty good at this.
HOLOFERNES: I guess you’re right. All right, pour me some of that wine. [MAKES GULPING SOUNDS] Woooh – that’s really sweet. But it goes down well with the salty cheese.
NARRATOR: Maid pours him another glass of wine, which he guzzles down as he eats another big chunk of cheese.
HOLOFERNES: Yeah, that’s delicious. [HICCUP.] Oh, man. I’m getting really sleepy.
JUDITH: Then why don’t you just lie down for a minute?
HOLOFERNES: Well… all right – just for a little while. Don’t let me sleep more than 45 minutes, OK? Cuz I really gotta go kill some Jewzzzzzzzzz…
NARRATOR: Holofernes falls asleep and begins to snore loudly. Judith then grabs his sword from his belt.
JUDITH: Sweet dreams, sleepyhead. And speaking of your head… HA-YA!
NARRATOR: Judith wields the sword and chops Holofernes’s head off.
MAID: HOLY CRAP! YOU JUST CHOPPED HIS HEAD OFF! I did NOT see that coming!
BAKER: Me neither! This story is crazy!
MACCABEE: And you won’t believe what happened next. Judith took Holofernes’s head and hung it outside the tent for all the Assyrians to see. Once they saw their general had been slaughtered, and by a woman, they completely freaked out! And the Maccabees got a second wind when they saw what a champ Judith was, and they kicked some Assyrian ass!
BAKER: And THEN they all ate macaroons?
MACCABEE: [SIGHS.] Yeah, then they all ate macaroons to celebrate. And because of Judith and her incredible bravery, in addition to the latkes and jelly donuts that we eat on Hanukkah, we also eat salty cheese.
BAKER: Like Feta?
MACCABEE: Sure, like Feta.
BAKER: I have another question.
MACCABEE: Of course you do.
BAKER: Actually, two. Why do we spell “Hanukkah” so many different ways, and why is it that we remember the Maccabees, who were super-fit and strong like you, by eating heavy fried food and cheese?
MACCABEE: Those, my friend, are very good questions that even I can’t answer. Now I’m really hungry, so when I count to three, all listeners and actors wish each other Happy Hanukkah with feeling! One… two… three!
EVERYONE: HAPPY HANUKKAH!
Just as the Maccabees rededicated the Temple (the Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication”), looked through the rubble, and miraculously found the ingredients for light, we can use this holiday to look through our own rubble and find our own sources of light. Use this writing meditation to take time to pause and reflect on light, dedication, and miracles. Consider these eight questions and the time you’re taking to write your answers a gift to yourself. Happy Chanukah!
Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Take a full breath. Check in with your body, and ask yourself, “What does it feel like to breathe?,” and return to the physicality of your breath. Become aware of how your breath comes and goes, how your lungs fill and empty, your belly rises and falls.
Use the following questions to guide your writing meditation practice. Take your time and give yourself the gift of presence. This is being present. This is your practice, your exploration of dedication, and your opportunity to find out what lights up your life. Who knows, you could discover some hidden miracles!
When your mind inevitably wanders, because that’s what minds do, gently bring yourself back to this moment on your next inhale. Practice returning to your self, and to this paper in your hands.
What brings light to my life?
How can I kindle that light?
How can I bring more light into the world?
What miracles have I experienced during difficult times?
What miracles am I trying to cultivate in my life?
How can I bring about miracles in the lives of others?
What will I (re)dedicate myself to this year?
May our practice light us from within and allow us to radiate outwards, during the darkest time of the year and always, bringing light and peace to ourselves and the world.
By Deborah Rood Goodman & Ellen Zimmerman
It can be difficult to find fun Hanukkah kitchen activities for little ones. Making fried foods, like latkes and sufganiyot, can be dangerous to make with children, and even cut-out Hanukkah cookies require some dexterity. That’s why my family likes making edible hanukkiyot (Hanukkah menorahs).
1. DOUGHNUT MENORAH
This edible hanukkiyah isn’t messy, but it can be a little sticky. My family made ours by stacking donut holes atop brownies and securing them with toothpicks. The kids decorated the tops of the brownies to make them extra festive, and we double-stacked brownies to make the shamash candle higher than the others.
2. NUTELLA-AND-MARSHMALLOW HANUKKIYAH
This one requires a few extra ingredients, a little more time, and the willingness to make a bit more of a mess – but it’s worth it. You’ll need regular-sized (not mini) marshmallows, unwrapped chocolate gelt, and Nutella. Line up nine marshmallows, and use a dab of Nutella to “glue” them to the gelt as a base. For the shamash candle, use extra gelt or an extra marshmallow to make it higher. Not a fan of Nutella? Colorful frosting works just as well.
3. COLORFUL MARSHMALLOW HANUKKIYAH
"Paint" large marshmallows with milk mixed with food coloring or an all-natural alternative. Then push small birthday cake candles into the marshmallows for a hanukkiyah that you can light, or use pretzel sticks for one you can eat!
4. FRUIT AND VEGGIE HANUKKIYAH
People create all kinds of amazing food art with fruits and veggies, turning them into patterns, faces, animals, and entire scenes. This concept can easily be adapted into an edible hanukkiyah design that lies flat on a plate; no need to figure out how to stand it up. Let the kids go wild with the options: alternate carrot, celery, and zucchini sticks for candles; use red grapes or cherry tomatoes for flames; use whole carrots as candles and kiwi rounds or halved strawberries for flames… the options are endless!
5. "GO BANANAS" HANUKKIYAH
Slice one-half of a banana lengthwise and put the pieces cut-side down on a plate as the hanukkiyah base. Push a raisin onto the ends of pretzel sticks to represent the flames and push each pretzel into the banana to make a row of edible candles.
The best part? Your family can gobble up your homemade hanukkiyot while the Hanukkah candles are burning!
Two menorahs are sitting in the window.
The ﬁrst one says, “Wow, it’s getting hot with all these candles.”
The second one says, “Woah, a talking menorah!”
Q: What’s the best Hanukkah gift for someone who has everything?
A: A burglar alarm.
It was just before Hanukkah and Miriam, a grandmother, was giving directions to her grown up grandson who was coming to visit with his wife for the ﬁrst time since Miriam had moved to her new apartment.
“You come to the front door of the condominium complex. I am in apartment 3A.” Miriam told her grandson.
‘There’s a big panel at the door. Use your elbow to push button 3A and I will buzz you in. Come inside and the elevator is on your right. Get in the elevator and use your elbow to press the 3 button. When you get out, my apartment is on the left. Use your elbow to ring my doorbell and I’ll open the door for you.”
“Grandma, that sounds easy,” her grandson replied, “But why am I hitting all these buttons with my elbow.”
Miriam answered, “You’re coming to visit empty handed?”
By Miriam Steinberg-Egeth
While December is the season when kids get excited about presents, it’s also a perfect time to teach them the importance of giving back. These eight creative and fun ways of kids giving back this holiday season will work for kids of all ages and their grown-ups, and they can be tailored to Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s, or just because. If you’re celebrating Hanukkah, you could do one for each night. No pressure, though, just pick and choose what works best for your family!
Spend some time talking about tzedakah. Tzedakah is a little different from charity, which is giving when you want to/feel like giving. Tzedakah is a Jewish value that means to give because it’s a mitzvah (a commandment) and we are supposed to help others. Which is not to say we can’t enjoy it, too!
Eight Nights of Kids Giving Back
1. One Person’s Trash is Another Person’s Treasure
Help keep things out of the landfill while creating a thoughtful memento for a loved one and challenge your children to make presents out of recycled materials. Some examples: a bird feeder out of a milk carton, a kaleidoscope out of a paper towel tube or a picture frame decorated with bits of broken jewelry. If you haven’t made a menorah yet, you can create one out of just about anything, like dried tube pasta and your old kind-of-hardened Play Doh.
2. Crafting for a Cause
Make cards and send them to residents at nursing homes or to people being treated in or working at hospitals. So many people won’t be able to be with their families this year, and any friendly drawing or message from your child is sure to brighten someone’s day and help them feel connected and appreciated. Cards for Hospitalized Kids can also help get your cards in the hands of kids in hospitals around the country.
3. Out with the Old
Encourage your kids to look through their toys and books and select a few things they don’t play with anymore. If they struggle with this task, remind them they might need to make room for the new things coming for Hanukkah and/or Christmas. Donate the items to a thrift store, daycare center or give them away on your local Buy Nothing Group.
4. Because Every Day is Earth Day
Grab some bags, gloves and clean up your street or your favorite park. You can frame it as a gift your family is giving to the whole neighborhood. Add in extra lessons about caring for the environment by talking about landfills, what happens to litter that goes down the sewer and how animals and the ocean are affected by trash.
5. Tzedakah Time
Many Jewish communities designate one night of Hanukkah as a night to give back. Have a family conversation about what causes you care about. Give your children special gelt (Hanukkah gifts of money) for them to give away and help them go through the process of choosing a charity and making the donation.
6. Lend a Hand to the Hungry
Making sandwiches for people experiencing homelessness is a tangible way for kids to see how they can help others. If you don’t feel comfortable volunteering to help pack food right now, your local food pantry may need help delivering goods which can be done without contact. You can also donate non-perishable items at that same local pantry. Teaching kids about hunger and homelessness can make a lifelong impression about caring for people in need.
7. The Gift of Time
A lot of volunteer opportunities may not be available this year because of the pandemic, but your time may be the most valuable thing you have to offer. While you’re spending extra quality time at home with your kids, try baking cookies for sanitation workers, raking or shoveling for a neighbor or visiting (socially distanced) with people who are homebound or isolated. You can also find COVID-safe ways to volunteer with Repair the World.
8. Think Big
What does your kid worry about? Help them think through what steps are within their power to change something for the better, like the environment, supporting people who are sick or feeding the hungry. Maybe your plan incorporates one of the ideas above, or maybe you can start planning together for a longer term project, which you can incorporate into the coming year and revisit next holiday season.
"Left To Right" is the third music video by the duo who brought you "Rosh Hashanah Girl" and "20 Things To Do With Matzah", serving as the perfect soundtrack for this worldwide Hanukkah video collaboration, Pass The Candle, igniting a spark that will warm hearts as it spreads around the world for the Festival of Lights.
Song: "Left To Right"
Performed by Michelle Citrin
Music, Lyrics & Production by
William Levin http://JewishRobot.com and Michelle Citrin http://michellecitrin.com
Edited by Simon Weaver http://snip-snip.com
Special thanks to ROI120, Jewster.com, JTA, and The Jewish Channel