January 21, 2022 5:53 pm

Hanukkah, the week of lights

If this week, you readers, want to know if there is a Jewish community in your neighborhood or in any city in the world, they don’t have to ask anyone. Just walk around public places where you will find huge lighted chandeliers. These lights are an expression of the ancient Hebrew festival of lights or Hanukkah. Perhaps the most symbolic of the chandeliers is that of the Brandenburg Gate, in Berlin, as an expression of concord and peace, in a place that was the center of racial hatred, only eight decades ago.

What is the reason for these public lights? What is the meaning of Hanukkah, which we Jews celebrate this week? Why is this year celebrated so early? What is the reason for giving life to the light? Usually this holiday is celebrated at the end of December, very close to Christian Christmas, but this year, due to the Hebrew calendar, it was quite early (the last time something like this happened was in 1975). Both Hanukkah and Christmas (although of different meanings) are festivities that originated in the winter of the northern hemisphere, when the nights are very long and conducive to family reunions with gifts for the little ones. Both traditions place a supreme value on “the light.”

The main symbol of Hanukkah is light. Light equals us all. When the light breaks in, the darkness disappears; even the dim light of a candle drives away much darkness. Light is synonymous with “wisdom” and darkness, with “ignorance.” What is Hanukkah? In very few words, it is the evocation of one of the first struggles for religious freedom known in the history of mankind. This occurred around the year 164 a. of C., passed “barely” 2185 years.

The tyrant Greek-Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes he had intended to Hellenize the Hebrew people by force. Judaism was declared illegal, Jews were massacred, and the Temple was desecrated. Then came a popular uprising of a few, led by the Maccabees. After several years of unequal struggle, they managed to expel the Greek Syrian army, regain independence and reopen the Temple.

precisely “Hanukkah” means in Hebrew “inauguration” or “dedication.” The historian Flavio Josefo says: “The Hebrews were so happy (…) that they made a law for posterity: to keep this holiday, in memory of the restoration of their Temple of worship, for eight days.” When the Temple was reopened, they were able to light the candelabrum. There it happened what tradition knows as “the miracle of Hanukkah”: the oil that served for one day was enough for eight. For this reason, currently, in the eight days of the festival, the candelabrum of eight candles (plus one, which serves as support), with allusive songs, are gradually lit, and food fried in oil is eaten.

The celebration is also dedicated to remembering two heroic women: Janá (also called Salomé), who saw her seven children die for not betraying their beliefs, and Judith, who managed to save her city, after seducing, getting drunk and finally killing Commander Holofermes. We wondered at the beginning the reason for the public lighting ceremonies for the Chanukah lights. The aim of the festival is to educate against tyranny and show the miracle; it is also a way of “enlightening the world” with millenary values.

A shared wish: Hanukkah and Christmas are good times to renew hope that we will soon see the light of the end of the pandemic.

President of the Center for Research and Diffusion of Sephardic Culture


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