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Hanukkah celebrations under way

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By Diana Presser
For the Optic

Jews around the world — including the Las Vegas Jewish Community — are celebrating Hanukkah for eight days and eight nights.  

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, began Saturday.

The local festivities will take place from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on the eighth and last night of Hanukkah, Dec. 16, at the historic Temple Montefiore (Newman Center).  There will be traditional foods like latkes (potato pancakes), jelly donuts and other holiday treats, as well as traditional music — dancing is optional. The event will conclude with our annual community menorah lighting.

All are welcome to join the celebration.

If you have a menorah and candles, bring them with you (extra candles will be available).  Please bring an appropriate potluck item to share.

For questions about the Hanukkah party or potluck, call Marge Sanchez at 505-920-1024 or Molly Longoria at 425-8146.

People often think of Hanukkah as the “Jewish Christmas” because they both generally come in December and Hanukkah gifts are often exchanged — mostly for the children in the family.  Unlike Christmas, which is always Dec. 25 on the Gregorian or Christian calendar, Jewish holy days are observed according to the lunar calendar, which is why they do not always fall on the same date each year as the Gregorian calendar.

While both Hanukkah and Christmas began a little more than 2,000 years ago, Hanukkah and Christmas relate to two different historical events: Christmas marks the birth of Jesus, as the Christian Messiah. Hanukkah marks the miraculous victory of a small Jewish army of Maccabees defeating the massive Syrian troops, recapturing Jerusalem and taking back the Temple when Judea was part of the Syrian-Greek Empire, dominated by Syrian rulers of the Seleucid dynasty. Throughout its history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times and captured and recaptured 44 times.

Antiochus IV, became King and, under his tyranny, swine was sacrificed on the altar of the First Temple in Jerusalem (pork being forbidden to Jews), which was the ultimate offense to the Jewish people who, during this period were forced to abandon all things Jewish (or be put to death): including studying the holy Torah, the Hebrew language and all Holy Day observances, including the Sabbath. This was known as the Hellenistic period in Judea’s history because the Greek-Syrians imposed their gods, culture and customs throughout their vast empire.

Thus, the true miracle of Hanukkah is not a military victory alone, but the purifying and rededication of the Temple desecrated under Antiochus. It would take some time, but there was only enough oil to burn in the Temple lamps (menorahs) for one night.  By Divine intervention, the oil lasted eight days and eight nights, allowing enough time to complete the rededication of the First Temple.  

For this reason, Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights and thus we light one candle each night of Hanukkah, sing songs of thanks to God and take pride in our Jewish heritage.