Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
On Dec. 8, following the moving Havdalah service ending the Sabbath, the Jewish community ushered in the Festival of Lights – Chanukah – with the lighting of the menorah, the eating of potato latkes and jelly doughnuts, singing songs like Ma O Tzur (Rock of Ages) and children spinning the dreidel.
For the uninitiated, Chanukah is an eight-day festival celebrating and observing the Maccabees’ victory in war against the oppressive Assyrians, 167-165 BCE. Chanukah – rededication – also commemorates the rededication and repurification of the Holy Temple following its desecration by the Assyrians. This victory was led by Judah the Maccabee (the hammer).
One of the miracles of Chanukah is the victory in the war as the Jewish people were far outnumbered by their enemies. Another Chanukah miracle is that a one day’s amount of olive oil lasted for eight nights to keep the menorah (candelabra) lit until a larger amount of oil could be appropriately produced.
In keeping with the theme of oil, potato latkes (pancakes) and jelly doughnuts (sufganiot) – for the sweetness of victory and rededication – are symbolic as they are fried in oil. This is not a low-cal holiday, but it sure is a tasty one!
Taking the oil even further and demonstrating the positive outlook following the victory in the war over the Assyrians, the menorah is lit each of the eight nights by adding one new candle. Moving from the darkness to the light is an important theme not just for Chanukah, but part of the way of life of the Jewish people – rising up from the ashes, not unlike the Phoenix.
For those celebrating, enjoy the latkes with sour cream, mustard, or apple sauce and have a meaningful Chanukah.
Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield.