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WouldJew Believe 34: Hanukkah Edition

December 9, 2012 | by Marnie Winston-Macauley

In the year 3031, there won’t be a Hanukkah?!

Many of our holidays are a mixture of joys and oys, and The Festival of Lights is no exception.

A Little Joy: “Can you guess, children, which is the best of all holidays? Hannukah, of course! Mother is in the kitchen rendering goose fat and frying pancakes. You eat pancakes every day.” --Sholom Aleichem

A Little Oy: “Arkady was the only Jew I ever shared a cell with in the gulag. We celebrated Hannukah together in Chistopol prison in 1980, lighting pieces of wax paper we had stashed away for months and hoping they would last long enough for us to say prayers over them.”

-- Natan (Anatol) Sharansky


Hanukkah is one of the few Jewish festivals that commemorates an event not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. The story behind the celebration is related in the Talmud as well as the Book of the Maccabees. The holiday represents Jewish determination to be radical in the defense of our religion against all odds.

How did the Maccabees know that the small jar of oil they found was kosher?


The eight-branched candelabrum, now associated with Hanukkah, was first described in Exodus 37 and detailed as a seven-branched gold candelabrum made by Bezalel, the artisan, for the Tabernacle in the wilderness. The Menorah was later placed in the Temple in Jerusalem. The image of this Menorah can be seen in stone relief on the Arch of Tutus in Rome, depicting the vanquished Jews, now Roman slaves, holding the Temple Menorah, after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. after which the seven-branched was never again used.

The Hanukkah Menorah – technically called a Hanukkiah, has eight, plus the high center candle. This recalls the time, in 165 B.C.E., when the Maccabees reclaimed the Holy Temple which had been defiled by the Greeks, finding only one small jar of kosher oil remaining, which miraculously burned for 8 days and night.

Now how did they know that the oil was kosher, you ask? It bore the stamp of the High Priest. So the next time you are in the grocery store and see a kosher symbol on that snack food from one of the world’s many kosher certifiers, remember that this industry has been around for a long time. Even longer than latkes.


Hanukkah was approaching. Fortunately, we had among us a man who was a wizard at handicraft [Valery Krijzak]. For Hanukkah, Krijzak made a wonderful dreidel out of bread, but it was the day before Hanukkah and we still didn’t have any candles. Then the miracle of Hanukkah took place in our cell! Krijzak moaned, “Doctor, I am having a terrible hemorrhoid attack. Please give me some suppositories.” Now we had the material from which to make candles ... enclosed behind thick steel doors. But we were still with our people.

—Excerpted: Refusenik Yosef Begun, “Hanukkah in a Soviet Prison” (1998)


Everyone knows that Hanukkah occurs once a year, right? Wrong. In the year 3031 of the Gregorian calendar, there will be no Hanukkah! Ah, but the following year, 3032, there will be two -- one in January, the other in December. That's, count 'em 16 gifts per! (And don't forget the latkes.) As We Jews are always on top of things, I suggest we each leave a time capsule to be opened in the Gregorian year 3000, with instructions to our loved ones that read: “Mamalas! Start saving your shekels, and store up on potatoes, should, God forbid, there be a famine! Much love and remember, we’re watching! Great-great-great-grand Tante Tillie.”


According to John Cooper in Eat and Be Satisfied, the Jews in the Rhineland developed the breeding and fattening of geese, as far back as the Middle Ages. The slaughter of a duck or goose on Hanukkah provided the fat used for frying latkes, while the remaining fat and skin was rendered separately to be set aside for Passover, proving once again, We Jews love our leftovers!

Did the Maccabees see Haley’s Comet?!


Jewish Marines had come back from the capture of Tarawa and encamped on an island in the Central Pacific, on a ridge 3,000 feet above sea level. Chaplain Jacob Philip Rudin traveled to the precarious quarters to celebrate another group of valiant soldiers – The Maccabees. As there were no chairs, electric lights and the wind whistled, flapping the tent-chapel, Chaplain Rudin filled the menorah with small orange candles as the men recited the prayers, and sang "Maoz Tzur." Then he described a small miracle. “As we stood in the semi-gloom the wind set the flame flickering, the entire menorah was ablaze. I let it burn, as though we were sharing all the eight days in one miraculous moment. The lights of Hanukkah gleamed through the darkness and made it bright with their golden message of courage and faith and hope.”


In Amazing Jewish Facts and Curiosities: Can You Believe It? Ronald H. Isaacs reports a novel astrological theory. When the events relating to Hanukkah were occurring (165 B.C.E.), Halley’s Comet was passing very close to Earth. Upon victory over the Greeks, the theory contends that when the Jews witnessed this miraculous light in the sky from the Comet’s tail, Hanukkah, was termed “Festival of lights.”


In December 1993, astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman, mission specialist on the Endeavor, made history when he became the first Jew to demonstrate to a live TV audience how to spin a dreidel in space! He even brought a small silver menorah with him, but couldn’t light it, as open flames could start a conflagration in space.

Astronaut David Wolf lived on the Mir space station from September 1997 to January 1998. While orbiting during Hanukkah, he, too, couldn't light his menorah without blowing up the craft, but thanks to zero gravity, he probably holds the dreidel spinning record – an hour and a half. The dreidel went missing, but was later recovered after in an air filter after having traveled 25,000 miles! (Not recommended for small children!)


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