Friday, December 11, 2009

Jews to Celebrate Chanukah this Year Beginning Evening of Dec. 11

Chanukah, the eight-day Jewish festival commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem,[1] begins this year on Friday evening (Dec. 11).[2] Jews in Israel and around the world celebrate Chanukah as a period of light and warmth during the winter season. Each night of Chanukah, Jews light candles on a chanukiah – a nine-branched candelabrum with eight candleholders representing each night of the holiday.[3] The chanukiah is often erroneously referred to as a menorah, a similar candelabrum but with just seven candleholders.

This year, municipalities across Israel are hosting a variety of events celebrating Chanukah. In Haifa, the annual “Holiday of Holidays” coexistence festival – lasting a full month – started at the beginning of December and includes events celebrating Chanukah, Eid-al-Adha and Christmas.

“Coexistence walks” conducted through the city feature stops at art galleries displaying work by both Jewish and Arab artists.[4] In Jerusalem, the One Family Fund organization, which provides services for victims of terrorism, is holding a Chanukah fair with theatrical shows, lectures and other events.[5] And in Tel Aviv, the city’s Museum of Art will feature the “Touching the Light” art exhibition as well as several concerts and events for children during the eight days of Chanukah.[6]

The celebration of Chanukah dates back to about 165 BCE, when a band of Jews, the Maccabees, fought against the Seleucid Empire which then occupied the land of Israel and suppressed the practice of Judaism.[7] After defeating the Seleucids and reclaiming the Temple, the Maccabees discovered there was only enough oil to light the menorah there for one night. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days—enough time to prepare more oil.[8]

During Chanukah, Jews traditionally eat fried foods such as sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts) and latkes (potato pancakes) to recall the miracle of the oil. Sufganiyot are especially popular in Israel.[9]
Many Jews also play a game by spinning a square top called a dreidel (Yiddish) or s’vivon (Hebrew), inscribed with one Hebrew letter on each side. The letters are an acronym for the phrase “A great miracle happened here” or “there,” depending on whether the players are in Israel or the Diaspora.[10]

Chanukah falls on a different date in November or December each year because Jewish holidays follow the Hebrew lunar calendar, which varies from the Western calendar.[11] In the Jewish calendar, Chanukah is celebrated on the 25th day of the month of “Kislev.”


[1] Gradstein, Linda, “Where the Story of Hanukkah Comes to Life,” The Washington Post, Dec. 21, 2008,

[2] “Calendar of Jewish Holidays,” Union for Reform Judaism,, accessed Nov. 19, 2009; “Jewish Holidays Community Calendar,” Orthodox Union,, accessed Nov. 19, 2009; “Calendar of Major Jewish Holidays,” United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism,, accessed Nov. 19, 2009

[3] “Festival of Hanukkah To Begin at Sundown,” The New York Times, Dec. 20, 1981,

[4] Beit Hagefen-Arab Jewish Cultural Center, Haifa, Accessed Nov. 30, 2009

[5] “Events Holidays,” Jerusalem Blueprint, Accessed Nov. 30, 2009

[6], Accessed Nov. 30, 2009

[7] Weisman, Steven R., “Editorial Observer; The Celebration of Hanukkah, Then and Now,” The New York Times, Dec. 20, 1997,

[8] Gradstein, Linda, “Where the Story of Hanukkah Comes to Life,” The Washington Post, Dec. 21, 2008,

[9] Moskin, Julia, “Out of the Fryer, Into the Lights,” The New York Times, Dec. 21, 2005,

[10] Eilfort, Yeruchem, “Why Do We Play With a Top on Chanukah?” Chabad Web site,, accessed Nov. 19, 2009

[11] “Hanukkah,” BBC – Religion & Ethics,, accessed Nov. 19, 2009

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