August 20, 2019 | 81° F

Photo by pxsphere |

The eight-day Jewish celebration, Chanukah —  or more commonly known as Hanukkah — commences on Tuesday, Dec. 12 and ends in the evening of Wednesday, Dec. 20. To help celebrate, Rutgers Hillel will be inviting alumni, parents, friends, family, students and supporters to dine with them as they rejoice during the Festival of Lights over brunch. 

More than 2,000 years ago in Israel, a Syrian king named Antiochus IV Epiphanes was in control of the region. He oppressed the Jewish people, forcing them to follow the Greek gods. Antiochus prohibited the practice of Judaism, massacring Jewish people and desecrating the temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs — a non-kosher animal. Two men named, Judah Maccabee and Mattathias the Hasmonean, joined forces in revolt against the Syrians and made them leave the temple so they could once again worship their god. 

The Jewish people decided to clean all the Greek symbols out of the temple, and on the 25th day of the Jewish month, they finished. They lit an eternal flame, meaning that once the light was lit, it would never be put out. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, according to the Torah, it burned for eight days. Today, people celebrate Hanukkah to remember defeating the Syrians and the eight days the oil burned. 

Not only do people celebrate the Festival of Lights, there are many traditional Hanukkah rituals that Jewish people participate in. 

1. Lighting the Menorah 

The centerpiece of the Hanukkah celebration is the hanukkiah or menorah. The menorah has nine candles —  eight candles symbolize the number of days that the temple was lit, and the ninth is a helper candle used to light the others. The menorah can be store-bought or handmade. 

2. Music to Celebrate

The best part of having holiday parties is the music. Hanukkah has many songs that are great for dancing or listening to during dinner. Many of these songs celebrate the glory of God and the ancient Beit HaMikdash. One famous song is “Ma’oz Tzur,” which translates to “Rocky Fortress.” Another is “Mi Y’malel.” The opening line states, “Who can retell the mighty feats of God.” Lastly, a popular Hanukkah tune is, "Chanukkah, Oh Chanukkah." This song has an up-tempo, catchy rhythm that anyone can sing. 

3. Delicious Food

When it comes to Hanukkah, the food is not a disappointment. One of the main dishes is Latkes, which are made from shredded potatoes, eggs, onions and salt. Matzo meal, flour or breadcrumbs are often added to help bind the ingredients together. Herbs and spices are sometimes added for flavor. Together, these ingredients create a decadent dish that is plentiful and easy to make. Another favorite food is sufganiyot, which means jelly doughnuts. By adding sugar, warm water, flour, cinnamon and strawberry preserves, this deep-fried dessert makes the family and neighbors come knocking on your door. 

4. Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel 

It is customary to play with dreidels (spinning tops) during the holiday. A dreidel is a spinning top with four sides, each marked with a different Hebrew letter. According to, children began playing with dreidels during the time of Maccabees. Under this rule, Jewish children were forbidden from studying the Torah, but they would defy the decree and study anyway. When a Greek official would come close, they would put away their books and take out spinning tops and claim they were just playing games. Used with coins, candies or even food, this game is fun to play, especially if you receive the pot. 

5. Gold Coins and Gifts

Gift giving is not a traditional part of the holiday, but a common gift is a Hanukkah gelt, which is Yiddish for money. This is popular among Jewish people because their ancestors' ability to make their own coins was a symbol of the independence that they gained in the battles that the "Festival of Lights" commemorates. Today, some families prefer to give smaller gifts on the first few nights and larger gifts toward the eighth night. 

While this holiday is focused on going to the synagogue and reading scriptures, it is also about spending time with your loved ones at home while eating great food, playing games and enjoying good music around the menorah. 

Elizabeth Leoce

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Targum.