> Holidays > Chanukah > Family Chanukah

Chanukah Family Guide

May 9, 2009 | by Yair Kobernick

When does the family join together to light the Chanukah menorah? How do we light? What time do we light?...and a special Chanukah story.

It was a cold winter evening. Snowflakes gently glided down through the air to cover the city with a fresh white blanket. Whether in their homes or cars, all people were listening to a breaking news bulletin.

"We interrupt this program," said the announcer on the news, "to inform you of a very mysterious unidentified flying object moving -- or rather twirling -- towards the outskirts of Solon, Ohio. Air Force radar systems had locked in on the UFO and we were in the process of forcing it to land, when it strangely vanished from the radar screens at cloud level. Air Force pilots are baffled as to the whereabouts of the UFO. All residents of the greater Solon area are warned to stay indoors. Stay tuned for more information."

Danny and Dina were alone. Their parents were out to dinner and the baby-sitter was nowhere to be seen, she had probably fallen asleep in the den.

"Hey Danny," wondered Dina as she sat looking out the big living room window at the beautiful snow covered forest near their house. "Did you understand what the news was talking about?"

"Something about a flying saucer or something," answered Danny as he joined her at the window. "Pretty awesome if you ask me!"

Then suddenly the unthinkable happened. It was unbelievable, unimaginable, simply incredible! Right outside their window a huge puffball of smoke came down from the tops of the tall trees and landed on the edge of the forest.

Danny and Dina sat there dumbfounded. It looked like a giant snowball at first, but, as it twirled around in circles, brilliant flashing colors could be seen. Eventually it came to a halt.

The two children saw it clearly now. It wasn’t round like a flying saucer -- it was a cube. And it had a big friendly smiley face painted on one of its four sides. Its lights were flashing on and off. Danny and Dina were so curious that they decided to go outside to get a closer look.

They ran through the snow until they got very close. Then this whatever-it-was began to talk.

"Hey kids," it said. "My name is Dizzy, the Dreidel. I spin, fly, and twirl from place to place to act out and dramatize the story of Chanukah to Jewish children all over the world. So, if you would like, I am ready to start the show."

Danny and Dina were so excited. "Yes, we want to see the show."

"I suggest that you go back into your warm living room and watch through the window. I will stay here and act out the story of Chanukah using my super lasers and audio system."

Danny and Dina ran back inside and sat in front of the window. Dizzy made the whole forest look like one big movie screen.

All of a sudden, they were looking at the Judean Hills in Israel, the way it looked two thousand years ago. There was a group of Jews standing together on a mountain edge looking out over a valley. In the valley Danny and Dina could clearly see a squadron of soldiers.

"Who are they?" asked Dina.

Dizzy heard her question and said, "Those are the Greek soldiers Dina. If you look closely, you will see their leader. His name is Antiochus Apifinas from the dynasty of Salikus."

"Antikochus who?" asked Dina.

"When the Greek emperor, Alexander the Great, died, his empire was divided up. Antiochus got the region of Israel and Syria. He wanted everybody to be like the Greeks. At first, the Jews wouldn’t change their ways, so he began to make evil decrees. No more Shabbat, no more Jewish holidays, no more learning Torah."

"Unfortunately, there were Jews who began to give in. They changed their names to sound more Greek. Abraham became Gregory and Deborah became Dorothea. Their clothing began to look more and more Greek, while many Jews abandoned the ways of their forefathers. The Greeks didn’t mind letting the Jews stay alive, so long as they stopped being Jewish."

Then Danny and Dina’s jaws dropped a bit when they saw the scene of the Temple appear before them. It was beautiful. They could see the walls all around it. The inside was just stunning -- all marble and gold. There was the table that had 12 trays of bread on it, and an incense altar. Most beautiful of all, however, was the gold menorah. It stood majestically with its seven oil lamps, but none of the lamps were lit.

"Hey Dina look over there!" Danny exclaimed. "The Greek soldiers are coming into the Temple. Oh, what a mess they are making!"

"Look at that big piece of wood they’re carrying. What do you think that is?" Dina asked.

"That is an idol," explained Dizzy the Dreidel. "The Greeks wanted to show the Jews that Jewish beliefs were finished and out of date. Just Greek culture with its idols was allowed."

Then the scene switched to the hills of Modi’in, a Jewish city north of Jerusalem. This was the town where Matityahu ben Yochanan lived. There he was, standing with his five sons, Yochanan, Shimon, Yehuda, Eliezer and Yonatan. They were watching the group of soldiers who had just come into town.

The soldiers of Antiochus had been making their way from town to town all over Israel in order to break the spirit of the Jews. The Greeks goal was clear. Get the Jews to abandon their Jewish ways. In the center of Modi’in, they erected an idol and began building a small altar for sacrifices. They took a pig and called for the Jews to come stand in line to participate in the celebration. Unfortunately, some Jews gave in and came forward.

Then the soldiers noticed Matityahu ben Yochanan who was older than most of the other Jews and clearly a leader of the community. "Hey you, old rabbi," yelled one soldier. "Come over here. We want you to be the first one in line. If you go first, then everyone else will see that it’s okay and go after you."

"You gentiles can do whatever your king wants you to do," Matityahu said firmly in a strong voice. "However, we are Jewish and our God who is our King does not allow such abominations. We will not go against the rules of our King."

This annoyed the Greeks. The air was tense. The fear of the rest of the Jews was very great. One Jewish man couldn’t take it anymore. He felt it would be better to give in than to anger the Greeks. He stepped forward and volunteered to be the first one to do what the soldiers were commanding.

When Matityahu saw this, he sprinted forward to prevent him from cooperating with the Greeks. People started running and screaming. One Greek soldier was killed. Matityahu stood up and yelled with all his might, "Whoever wants to remain Jewish and fight the Greeks, come with me!!"

Mostly all of the Jews who were there joined Matityahu and his sons and ran to the mountains. In the mountains they continued to live as Jews, and at the same time they prepared for war. Jews from all over the land came to join them in the mountains.

"Danny," asked Dina, "How are the Jews going to fight those Greeks. The Greeks look much stronger than the Jews. The Jews don’t stand a chance to win."

"You’re right Dina," answered Danny, "just look at all that equipment that the Greeks have."

The Greeks shifted into war gear. Danny and Dina could see them getting ready. Each soldier was equipped with an armored suit. They had plenty of spears, swords, and arrows. They wore helmets and had hand-held shields. In addition, the Greeks rode elephants and horses. They were known as the world’s best warriors. But what about the Jews?

The scene now switched. Danny and Dina could see the Jews praying. The men were each wearing a tallit and te’filin. They did not look like warriors at all. First of all, they were few in number compared to the mighty army of the Greeks. Secondly, they weren’t nearly as athletic as the Greeks were.

Matityahu gave each son a different job to prepare for the war. Yehuda was appointed to be the head of the Jewish Army. On his shield he carved in Hebrew the word MaCCaBee -- it was short for "Who is like You among the heavenly powers, O God."

The Jews were different than the Greeks because they trusted in God. During a three-day fast that Yehuda declared, the Jews prayed and learned Torah. This was how the Jews prepared for war. After this, they felt ready.

God was on their side. The war began. The Jews won battle after battle. They defeated the mighty Greeks, a miracle in itself. The few and weaker defeated the many and strong. The Greek soldiers who managed to survive the war ended up running away from Israel.

Danny and Dina watched on as Yehuda and his men made their way to Jerusalem and found the Temple empty and in turmoil. It was a total mess. Everything holy had become defiled. They started cleaning up and putting things back together.

One of the first most important tasks was to get the menorah set up and to light the candles. "Yehuda," called one of the Jews. "All of these flasks of oil have been opened and spilled out by the Greeks. We don’t have any oil to light the menorah." They went through the rubble searching, but with no luck.

"Dina, do you see what I see?" said Danny. "Look, over there in the corner, a jar of oil. That man walked right by it and didn’t even see it. Hey Mister!" called Danny, "turn around, it’s right behind you!!"

"He can’t hear you Danny," said Dina.

But just then the man turned around and his eyes fell right on the little jar. "Here’s a good one," he called to everyone as he picked it up carefully. "It has the priest’s special seal on it, a sure sign that it was not opened by the Greeks. But it only has oil in it to last for just one day. It won’t be enough."

Oil for the menorah was made from olives. And since it takes eight whole days to gather new olives and press them for pure oil, this little flask wasn’t enough to keep the menorah lit for so long. "This is worthless," another said, "after one day the lamps will go out again."

"This is what we have right now," said Yehuda, "so let us use it and maybe, just maybe, God will help us again."

He was right. A miracle occurred and the oil lasted for eight days. The menorah stayed lit the entire time. By the end of eight days, they had had prepared enough new olive oil to use.

The day the battle against the Greeks ended, was the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev. Twenty-five in Hebrew letters is kaf-hey, which is pronounced ka. The word chanu means "they rested." In other words, in Hebrew, "They rested from their enemies on the 25th" is written Chanu-ka.

After the victory against the Greeks, the Jews decided to mark the 25th of Kislev as a Jewish Holiday. Each year, beginning on the evening of the 25th, every Jewish home lights a menorah for eight consecutive nights. This is to publicize the miracle that occurred.

"Dina, who are those kids playing over there on the floor?" asked Danny.

"I would say it looks like, yes, hey Danny, that’s you and me!" said Dina surprisingly. We’re playing with a dreidel and here comes Mom with a tray of something that looks like yummy doughnuts."

Dizzy the Dreidel reappeared and said, "Jewish children all over the world play the game of dreidel on Chanukah. The Hebrew letters nun gimel, hey, and shin stand for: nes gadol haya sham, ‘a great miracle happened there.’ It happens to be my favorite game. I’ll bet you can guess why."

"Dizzy," asked Dina, "what are those doughnuts on the tray all about?"

"Oh," said Dizzy the Dreidel. "In Hebrew they are called sufganiyot. They are special deep fried doughnuts that have jelly inside. They are eaten since they are fried in oil. This reminds us of the miracle that happened with the oil."

"Well," said the Dreidel, "that’s going to be it for tonight kids. I hope you had a good time and that you learned a lot."

"We sure did," they both said. "Bye, and thank you so much."

"You’re welcome. You were wonderful kids," said Dizzy the Dreidel as he started to spin. Faster and faster he twirled and spun as he began to take off through the tree tops and off into the sky.

The beautiful snowy forest near Danny and Dina's house on Trailwood Court was as quiet and peaceful as could be. Mr. and Mrs. Zeidman drove up into the driveway. The radio was on, but they were not paying much attention.

"We interrupt this broadcast again with an update about the mysterious UFO that was spotted near Solon this evening... " said the news announcer.

"Oh honey, turn it off," Mrs Zeidman said. "They talk about such silly things on the news sometimes. I want to get inside to check on the kids already. I hope they’re asleep already."

Mrs. Zeidman got out of the car and went inside, but Mr. Zeidman stayed a few moments to hear the end of the news.

"It was seen one more time on Air Force radar systems," said the announcer, "but then it mysteriously disappeared again.

Mr. Zeidman said to himself, "Sure," and turned off the radio.

"In other Solon news tonight," the announcer went on, "there was a large amount of noise coming from the forest area near Trailwood Court but authorities were not able to pin point exactly what it was all about."


This is how we do it:

The Menorah

The Menorah should have room for eight candles or oil lamps plus a 9th one called the shamesh. The shamesh is lit first and is used to light the others. It should not be in the same row as the other eight. Usually it is higher or lower, behind or in front of the other candles.

Time for lighting

The time for lighting differs among communities. Some light just as the sun is setting while others light as soon as it gets dark outside. The minimum amount of time that the candles need to stay lit is 30 minutes after dark. Those who use wax candles should make sure they are big enough to last at least this minimum amount of time.

The Candles

Some people use colorful wax candles while others use oil candles or oil lamps since the miracle actually happened with oil lamps.

Where does the Menorah go?

The menorah should be placed in a place where people will see it. Some put it in the window so the passers by outside will see it. This way, the miracle will be publicized. Others put it in the left part of the doorway so when they walk into the house they will be flanked by two important Jewish symbols -- the mezuzah on the right and the menorah on the left.

What order to light?

On the first night, the candle or lamp on the right side is lit. The shamesh is lit with a match and used to light the first Chanukah candle or oil lamp, which is usually placed on the extreme right. On the second night, two candles or oil lamps are placed in the menorah on the right side. The new one is lit first. Each night a new candle or lamp is added. The new one is always lit first.

The Blessings

On the first night of Chanukah, three blessings are recited. On each of the following nights, only the first two are said:

  1. Baruch Atah A’donoi Eloheinu Melech Haolam, asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu le’hadlik ner shel Chanukah. (Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.)
  2. Baruch Atah A’donoi Eloheinu Melech haolam, she’asah nisim l’avoteinu bayamim haheim ba’zman hazeh. (Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the Universe, Who has wrought miracles for our forefathers, in those days at this season.)
  3. Baruch Atah A’donoi Eloheinu Melech haolam, shehechiyanu v’kiyamanu v’higianu la’zman hazeh. (Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the Universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.) 

Based on an original Hebrew story by Ephraim Sidon.

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