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Holiday of Holidays Festival - Hanukah

25th day of Kislev, the Jewish Festival of Lights

The Arab-Jewish Center in Haifa produces the 'Holiday of Holidays Festival', Hanukah - Christmas - Ramadan

Hanukah, also known as the Festival of Lights or Festival of Rededication, is an eight-day Jewish holiday that starts on the 25th day of Kislev. The festival is observed in Jewish homes by the kindling of lights on each of the festival's eight nights, one on the first night, two on the second night and so on.

Holiday of Holidays Festival

Each year The Arab-Jewish Center in Haifa, Beit-Hagefen, produces and organizes the Holiday of Holidays Festival, Hanukah - Christmas - Ramadan, focusing on guided tours of art galleries and alleys of the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood. The Holiday of Holidays Festival serves as a model of coexistence and conveys the messages of tolerance and understanding to all the citizens of Israel. The Arab citizens, represented by the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood committee, is involved in the preparations for the festival. Coexistence events will take place in various parts of the city.

Beit Hagefen Website

The Story of Hanukah

The story of Hanukah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but allowed the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. Under this relatively benevolent rule, many Jews assimilated much of Hellenistic culture, adopting the language, the customs and the dress of the Greeks, in much the same way that Jews in America today blend into the secular American society.

The Temple Mount, Jerusalem
(Photo: Sasson Tiram)

More than a century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV was in control of the region. He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a Hellenistic priest in the Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs (a non-kosher animal) on the altar. Two groups opposed Antiochus: a basically nationalistic group led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah Maccabee, and a religious traditionalist group known as the Hasidim, the forerunners of the Pharisees. They joined forces in a revolt against both the assimilation of the Hellenistic Jews and oppression by the Selucid Greek government. The revolution succeeded and the Temple was rededicated.

According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the re dedication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle.

Hanukah Customs

Hanukiah: The most visible aspect of the observance of Hanukkah is lighting of the special Hanukkah Menorah , also called a Hanukiah. As opposed to the seven candlesticks of the Temple Menorah, the Hanukiah has nine candles (or sometimes oil lamps), one of which always stands out from the others, usually higher, or off to one side. The lamp which stands out is called the Shamash in Hebrew, or Shamus in Yiddish. The shamash is lit first and used to light the remaining lamps, one for each day that the temple menorah miraculously stayed lit. The light is supposed to be displayed prominently - in a window or on the stoop - where all who pass by will see it and be reminded of the Miracle. It is worthwhile, if you ever find yourself in Jerusalem over the holiday, to take an evening stroll through the religious neighborhood of Mea Shearim, where you will find such lights beckoning from every home.

It is from this practice that the Feast of Hanukkah derives it second name - the Festival of Lights.

The Dreidel (svivon): Another symbol of Hanukkah is the dreidel. A dreidl is a four-sided top with one of the Hebrew letters Nun, Gimel, Heh, and Shin on each side. The letters stand for the phrase Nes Gadol Hayah Sham - "A great miracle happened there." But they also stand for the instructions to a game which is played with the top, and so (or so they say), the dreidl was used as a teaching tool in disguise, because in times and places where the Jewish people were forbidden to teach their religion, the dreidl could be passed off as an innocent toy. (In Israel the letters are Nun, Gimmel, Heh and Peh, for "Nes Gadol Hayah Poh!" - "A great miracle happened here"!) 

Gifts & Treats: Children get "Hanukkah-Gelt" (Hanukkah Money) and/or Hanukkah presents at this time of year. It is a school holiday. Among the Ashkenazim (Jews of East European extraction), it is traditional to eat latkes (potato pancakes) and applesauce. In Israel, sufganiyot - a kind of donut without the hole, covered in powdered sugar - are also traditional at Hanukkah.

Sources: amfi.org, jewfaq.org, Wikipedia

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