Page 6 - December 2019 Gears & Ears
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Gears and Ears

                               Journal of The Rotary Club of Lake Buena Vista

                                                      December 2019
                                            Holiday Traditions

                                 The word “Hanukkah” means “dedication,” and it refers to the rededication of
                                 the Temple in Jerusalem which took place after the Maccabees’(a band of Jewish
                                 guerilla fighters) victory over the Syrian-Greek empire in 164 BCE. Once the
                                 Maccabees had restored the Temple and re-purified it, the traditional story says
                                 that they sought to relight a lamp known as the “eternal flame.” But only one
                                 day’s worth of consecrated olive oil could be found, and it would be awhile before
                                 more could be produced. No one wanted to light the eternal flame only to see it
                                 sputter out after a day, but there was also a deep spiritual desire to rekindle the
                                 sacred lamp immediately. The priests decided to light it and hope for the best.
                                 Miraculously, it burned for eight days until fresh jars of olive oil were finally
                                 brought to keep the flame alive. Hence, the eight nights of candle lighting for

      Like winter holidays of many other religions, Hanukkah emphasizes light during
      the darkest part of the year. The main observances are lighting a menorah (a
      ceremonial candelabra), spinning a top called a dreidel in a game of chance,
      and eating fried foods (to symbolize the oil in the story).  Although it’s a minor
      religious holiday, Hanukkah among American Jews has become enormously
      popular. It’s a festival of light in the winter, it celebrates victorious underdogs,
      and it fits the survival rubric that animates Jewish holidays like Passover and
                                    Several centuries after the Maccabees instituted Hanukkah as a new major
                                    holiday in ancient Israel, the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple and
                                    exiled most Jews from Israel. As a result, the rabbis who came to lead the
                                    surviving Jews downplayed the importance of Hanukkah and chose to
                                    downplay the military victory and emphasize the miracle of the sacred light
                                    that burned for eight days despite there only being one day’s worth of oil. For
                                    many centuries, Hanukkah quietly appeared every winter as a minor yet festive
                                    In modern American Jewish life, however, Hanukkah has made a major
                                    comeback. Always arriving roughly around the same time as Christmas,
                                    Hanukkah has absorbed some of the universal elements animating the
                                    Christmas season. Before modern times, there was no Jewish tradition of
                                    exchanging gifts during Hanukkah. But in every place Jews have lived they
                                    have adapted their holidays and customs, often absorbing elements from the
                                    majority culture and reframing them in a Jewish context. American Hanukkah
                                    is a prime example of this and it’s an important part of how Judaism has
                                    evolved and stayed relevant across so many places and historical times.

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