A Hanukah Teaching • Rabbi Seth Riemer
Hanukah (meaning “Dedication”) begins on 25 Kislev - which this year falls on Thursday, December 7 in the evening - and lasts for eight days.
This quiet solstice festival involves two themes: a 2nd century BCE Jewish rebellion against Greek-Syrian forces, and a miracle reported to have occurred during the war leading to our people’s victory in that war. According to traditional sources, when Maccabee fighters regained Jewish control over Jerusalem and were reestablishing priestly worship there, they found only enough pure oil to keep the Temple’s seven-branched menorah lit for one day, but that oil miraculously lasted for eight days, enough time for a new supply of oil to be despatched.
Later, our Rabbis feared persecution from Roman and Christian authorities who would look upon a celebration of Jewish military might as incitement to rebellion. Emphasizing instead the legend of the miraculous oil, they instituted the custom of lighting, with blessings, a hanukiyah (eight-branched menorah) - one light (using candle or olive oil) to be added for each successive night.
Over the centuries, other customs developed: eating food, such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganyot (jelly doughnuts) fried in oil; giving coins (or chocolate wrapped in foil to look like coins) to children; festive music; and gambling for small stakes with a four-sided dreidel (sevivon, spinning top), each side sporting a Hebrew letter as code for the players’ moves, the four words that those letters begin forming the sentence nes gadol hayah sham, meaning “a great miracle happened there” (in Israel, sham, meaning “there,” is replaced by po, meaning “here”).
Put candles or oil in your hanukiyah from right to left and, using the shamash (helper candle), light them from left to right after reciting blessings Follow the custom of placing your hanukiyah in a window visible to passersby if you feel safe in doing so.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלוֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְשָׁנוּ בְּמִצוֹתָיו וְצִיוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל חַנֻכָה
Baruh atah adonay eloheynu meleh ha’olam asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu lehadlik ner shel hanukah.
Blessed are you, Eternal our God, sovereign of all worlds, who has made us holy with [your] mitzvot and commanded us to kindle Hanukah lights.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלוֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה
Baruh atah adonay eloheynu meleh ha’olam she’asah nisim la’avoteynu bayamim hahem bazeman hazeh.
Blessed are you, Eternal our God, sovereign of all worlds, who did miracles for our ancestors in those days at this season.
On the first night of Hanukah add:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלוֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָּנוּ, וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיָּענוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה
Baruh atah adonay eloheynu meleh ha’olam sheheheyanu vekiyemanu vehigi׳anu lazeman hazeh.
Blessed are you, Eternal our God, sovereign of all worlds, who gave us life ,and kept us strong, and brought us to this time.
Following candlelighting, many recite Hanerot Halalu and sing Ma’oz Tzur. If you need help in finding these and other resources for Hanukah, please click to contact Rabbi Seth.
Our Hanukkah Menorahs, Stories, Recipes
The mitzvah of Hanukkah is to share the miracle by lighting the Hanukkah menorah and displaying the light. We invite you to share some virtual light with pictures of your favorite menorah, or a photo of a menorah lighting. Include, if you'd like, a short story to go with the photos, and/or share a favorite Hanukkah recipe!
Spencer Jarrett and Marcia Levin’s menorah was made out of a piece of 2x4 lumber and hand-painted with multi-colored dots.
It holds nine shot glasses filled with oil.
My Hanukkah Menorah.
A Story of a Lifelong Friendship
By Wendy Klein-Faller
The Hanukkah menorah you see in this photo is very special because it was given to me many years ago from a lifelong friend of mine, my next door neighbor, Ginny Vitalo. In this case, “lifelong” is meant quite literally as you can see both Ginny and me as toddlers in the accompanying faded photograph. I’m the one wearing the pom pom hat that Ginny is attempting to pull off! Ginny and I survived that early squirmish, as well as an argument when we were in pre-teens over politics (based upon what each of us came to later understand to be our parents’ beliefs, not ours) that caused us to part ways for several months. Other than that temporary break in our friendship, Ginny has been an integral part of my life since I was 8 months old.
When I light this menorah each year, every candle transports me back through time to any one of the thousands of memories in which Ginny plays a part, many of which were transformative. At this particular time of year, however, I often land on the holidays we have shared for the majority of our 60+ years. Hanukkah brought latkes at the Kleins (my grandmother made enough to feed the entire neighborhood!), and Christmas Eve a delicious Italian meal at the Vitalos. Oh, what I wouldn’t do for another piece of Ginny’s mother’s lasagna!
I like to focus my energy around Hanukkah on the miracles in my life and cherish the miracle that I believe my lifelong friendship with Ginny to be. It has withstood the test of time and we have been blessed with the opportunity to support each other’s journey--with all the joys and challenges that we have experienced. So this year, like all past years, I will light my menorah and will rededicate myself to a friend that has been one of my steadfast pillars. May the light of our special friendship continue to shine for many years to come.
When my brother Larry died of leukemia in 1958 just 3 weeks after his 15th birthday, our Jewish community in Meriden, CT wanted to create a fitting memorial that would bring light and inspiration to Jews and non- Jews alike. Thus, this nearly 9’ tall menorah was created and placed on the outside wall of Temple B’nai Abraham. For 59 years the menorah was illuminated every Shabbat and on all 8 days of Chanukah and it truly brought beauty and light for all to see.
Sadly, the once thriving Jewish community in Meriden declined and in 2019 the synagogue closed. A new home for the menorah was found at Temple Emanu-el in Waterford CT. The brass menorah has been polished up, rewired, and will be rededicated on December 5th, the last night of Chanukah. My family and I will participate in the dedication via zoom. How thrilled we are that the Larry Roden Memorial Menorah will continue to shine.
This brass menorah was a gift from Louise Olsen, a friend on Vashon Island in Washington; she found it at Granny’s Attic, a nonprofit thrift store there. As a recent arrival on Vashon, I hadn’t yet moved my household items across the country from Vermont. This beautiful hanukkiah allowed me to light the holiday candles in my new home. The center post is adorned with symbols of the twelve ancient tribes who wandered their way from a place of oppression to a place of self-determination — a complex and challenging story. The base is marked “Sabra” and “made in Israel”. I assume that the piece was cast after 1947, when the United Nations partitioned Israel as an independent state. An older piece may have said “made in Palestine”.
How the menorah wandered its way to Granny’s is a blank. The lost narrative reminds me of my own family, with no records older than my grandmother. At age 16 she left parents, siblings, and a small village to make the voyage to Ellis Island, escaping pogroms and wars that surely wiped out everyone left behind. This menorah honors those missing souls with each re-kindling.
This organic menorah was a house-warming gift from my friend Eric, who made it from a piece of driftwood he found on the shore of Lake Champlain in Vermont. My wife and I had just bought our first house in Burlington, where we settled with our young son. The menorah made a deep connection among us, as we all loved to walk for miles along the edge of the lake, talking about life, and combing the sand for stones and wood which had been worn smooth by the sand and choppy water.
My family lit the candles in this menorah for many years, always a bit of magic in those special evenings when we would say the blessings, illuminate the deep winter darkness, tell stories and jokes, play games, and exchange little gifts. The melting wax would inevitably drip onto the wood, and when the candle-flames burned close to the bottom, sometimes the wood itself would ignite! The obvious char is a happy memory of tradition, love, and scrambling to douse the fires.
An ecumenical Hanukkah!
My grandmother was literate in Yiddish, Russian, and Polish, but not English. However, she didn't use recipes in any language. Yet for as long as anyone can remember, her dishes were perfectly consistent in flavor, texture, appearance. I learned to cook grandma's food just by watching her do it for years. I was never allowed to help. I loved her blintzes and kugel, but a hot potato latke, in all its simplicity, was closest to heaven. My father also told serial bedtime stories about the Potato Latke Indians, which gave latkes a flavorful mythology as well. Enjoy. Peter Rubin
Grandma Sonny's Potato Latkes
4-5 medium-sized potatoes, washed
1 small finely-chopped onion (optional)
1 beaten egg
pinch of salt
dash of pepper
1/2-1 cup matzoh meal
oil for frying (grandma used chicken fat, I use canola)
Grate the potatoes on a wire mesh grater, or on the surface of your grater that has holes so small that it's no good for carrots or cheese. (As an alternative, you can chop the potatoes and near-puree them in a blender you trust.) The product should be mealy-mushy, not like shredded hash browns. Set the potatoes aside in a bowl for 15 min., then pour off any water which separates. Add the onion, salt and pepper. Stir in the matzoh meal, using more or less to make a batter similar in consistency to oatmeal, not too watery, not too thick. Drop by tablespoonfuls into 1/4 inch of oil in a hot skillet. Grandma always made them small, no more than 2 inches across. Cook until brown and crispy on both sides. Serve hot with a little applesauce or sour cream.