The Story of Hanukkah
by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh

Jewish children consider themselves the luckiest kids on the block around winter holiday season...they get presents for eight nights in a row! But just as Christian children are taught that Christmas is more than gift-giving so, too, Jewish parents teach that Hanukkah gifts are a reminder of the origins of the season’s joy, and not the reason for it.

Hanukkah means “dedication” the name by which the holiday is called in John 10:22 and the story is told in the Book of Maccabees. It refers to the renewal of God’s worship in the Temple in Jerusalem after it had been desecrated by the Seleucid Greek conquerors of the Holy Land in 169 BC. The Greeks worshipped Zeus in the Temple, and prohibited Jews on pain of death from following their age-old practices. But in 167 BC, a priestly family called the Hasmoneans from the Judean-mountain town of Modi’in rallied the Jews against their oppressors. About two years later, a rag-tag guerilla army led by the Hasmonean Judah the Maccabee and his brothers overcame the vast and well-equipped Seleucid forces.

Jewish families celebrate for eight days to commemorate the Hanukkah miracle: after the Jews had purified the Temple in the winter of 164 BC, they could find only a small jar of oil, essential in divine service since the time of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:6). But don’t look for the story in the Book of Maccabees; it is first told in the ancient Jewish commentary on the Bible, the  Talmud (Megillat Ta’anit 9).

The Hanukkah candelabrum, or menorah, has nine branches, one to hold a candle or oil for each of the eight nights, and one to light the others, known as the shamash (servant). We light one candle a night until all eight burn brightly, symbolizing our efforts to continually bring more light (holiness) into the world. We place the menorah in the window of the home to remind one and all of God’s never-failing protection.

The blessings the family or community says together when lighting the candles acknowledges God as the ruler of the universe, “who made miracles possible for our ancestors in those days at this same season.” Jewish observers then sing the hymn “Rock of Ages” including the words “My God, you are the rock of my rescue and it is lovely to praise you. Restore my house of prayer where I will offer thanks...”

In remembering ancient heroes, we also tell our children about modern-day heroes, like Golda Meir, Soviet Prisoner of Zion Anatoly Sharansky, the Righteous Gentiles who risked their lives for Jews during the Holocaust and many others.

Then, it’s time for supper, with popular Hanukkah foods including anything fried in oil, especially potato fritters. Like other Jewish holidays, children’s activities are teaching tools. Spinning a top (dreidl)  is a favorite. Each side is marked with a Hebrew letter standing for the words “a great miracle happened there” (or “here” if you’re playing in Israel) and trying to guess which letter will come up.

In Israel, part of the Hanukkah celebrations involve visits to the “Land of the Maccabees” in the foothills of Judah around the modern city of Modi’in, near the ancestral home of Judah’s family.

Jesus and Hanukkah
by Eva Marie Everson

I will never forget the first time I read John 10:22 with an inkling of understanding. I was sitting in the sanctuary of the church, reading a nearby passage with the congregation and our pastor, when my eyes diverted to the lines placed halfway down the left-hand side of the page.

Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem.