Tomorrow night at sundown marks the first night of Hanukah. Hanukah is the eight-day-long Jewish festival celebrating the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after its defilement in one of the first-ever religious wars. Rabbi Brian Glusman oversees Congregation Shalom, a merged conservative and reform congregation with a membership of 350 families throughout the Springs area. Temple Shalom will begin their celebration tomorrow night with a unique service featuring the Little London Winds, a 40-piece ensemble. The concert will include musical selections and songs in honor of Hanukkah.
What's the story of Hanukkah? The story dates back to approximately 165, before the Common era, when the Syrian Greek leader Antiochus and his army attempted to persecute the Jews. Basically, they (the Jews) were denied the right to practice their religious rituals and customs. Ultimately, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. But there was a small group of Jews who fought back and eventually won. They rededicated that temple, which is what the actual word Hanukkah means: rededication of the temple.
Is Hanukkah traditionally a major holiday, or has it been Americanized to coincide with Christmas? Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday. It's not nearly as important as the Jewish High Holidays (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur). But the theme is important. Really, it represents the first battle for religious freedom. So I have no problem with celebrating the holiday or having it coincide with the other winter holidays.
Why are there two different spellings (Hanukkah and Chanukkah)? There's really only one spelling. It's just when we tried to turn it into English, the real word in Hebrew did not translate. There is no equivalent in English for the "ch." So it was turned into Hanukkah.
Has the celebration Hanukkah evolved over time? The ways in which the holiday is celebrated have changed over time. The original idea of giving gifts, for example, had to do with rewarding kids for studying Torah. Now it's common to give a gift for all eight nights. And I think that's great. It's fun.
What does the menorah represent? There's only one real commandment -- one major obligation with Hanukkah -- and that is to light the menorah, the nine-branched candelabrum. One candle is lit for each day of Hanukkah. And it is supposed to be lit in a place where it can be seen. That's why you often see menorahs in the window. In Israel, even to this day, many homes have actual places near the front door, small alcoves outside the houses, for the menorahs. Ultimately, the lighting of the menorah so it is visible to the public means we should not be afraid of publicizing the holiday. Even if we are an insignificant part of the population in some cities, it helps the population to unite.
Why is Hanukkah eight days? There is a commandment in Judaism that says to keep the eternal light burning. There is an eternal light in all synagogues. When the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, it appeared that there was only enough lamp oil left to keep the flame lit for one day. But, miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. So that's considered the miracle. Though most historians say that the Jews' being able to defeat such a huge army was the real miracle. The rabbis, though, really didn't want to write war into the history and have it as part of the reason for celebration. They liked the lamp-oil story better. Either way, it was a miracle.