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Happy Chanukah!

The History of Chanukah

  First and foremost, Chanukah is a historical, nationalist holiday. It commemorates the successful rebellion, in the second century B.C.E., of a clan of Jewish freedom fighters called the Maccabees. These warriors rose up against Antiochus, a Greco-Syrian monarch who ruled Israel with a hard hand, banning Jews from practicing their faith and pressuring them to convert to a Hellenic way of life.

  Despite being greatly outnumbered, the Maccabees managed to recapture the Holy Temple, the premier site of ancient Judaism, from their oppressors. Chanukah means dedication in Hebrew -- the holiday pays tribute to the dedication of a group of Jews who believed fervently in their right to religious and nationalist freedom.

  Of course, there's also a religious aspect to Chanukah. Also known as the "Festival of Lights," Chanukah celebrates the miracle that occurred when the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple. The sanctuary was a shambles, torn apart by the Greco-Syrian forces. The fighters found only enough oil to light a lantern -- by which to read the Torah -- for one day. But the lantern blazed for eight full days.

  Celebrated on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, during the darkest days of the year, the candle-lighting holiday is a warm ritual to banish the winter blahs.  When Jews light the eight candles of the menorah on the eight nights of Chanukah, they recite a prayer extolling God who "performed miracles for our ancestors in days of old."    



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