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Origins and Traditions of Hanukkah

Hanukkah (also known as Chanukah, Hanukah, Hannuka and the Festival of Lights) is an eight-day Jewish holiday that usually takes place between late November and late December. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees, a Jewish rebel army, over the Syrians in 165 B.C.E., as well as the subsequent re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Jews around the world celebrate with eight nights of merriment. Traditions include lighting the menorah, exchanging gifts and enjoying treats cooked in oil.

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The History of Hanukkah

Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights, starting on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar (which is November-December on the Gregorian calendar). In Hebrew, the word “Hanukkah” means “dedication.”

The holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Jews’ 165 B.C.E. victory over the Hellenist Syrians. Antiochus, the Greek King of Syria, outlawed Jewish rituals and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods.

In 168 B.C.E. the Jews’ holy Temple was seized and dedicated to the worship of Zeus.

Some Jews were afraid of the Greek soldiers and obeyed them, but most were angry and decided to fight back.

The fighting began in Modiin, a village not far from Jerusalem. A Greek officer and soldiers assembled the villagers, asking them to bow to an idol and eat the flesh of a pig, activities forbidden to Jews. The officer asked Mattathias, a Jewish High Priest, to take part in the ceremony. He refused, and another villager stepped forward and offered to do it instead. Mattathias became outraged, took out his sword and killed the man, then killed the officer. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked and killed the soldiers. Mattathias’ family went into hiding in the nearby mountains, where many other Jews who wanted to fight the Greeks joined them. They attacked the Greek soldiers whenever possible.

Judah Maccabee and his soldiers went to the holy Temple, and were saddened that many things were missing or broken, including the golden menorah. They cleaned and repaired the Temple, and when they were finished, they decided to have a big dedication ceremony. For the celebration, the Maccabees wanted to light the menorah. They looked everywhere for oil, and found a small flask that contained only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. This gave them enough time to obtain new oil to keep the menorah lit. Today Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days by lighting candles in a menorah every night, thus commemorating the eight-day miracle.

Hanukkah Traditions

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The Menorah
On each night of Hanukkah, the menorah is lit to commemorate a miracle which occurred after the Jews proclaimed victory over the Syrian armies in 165 B.C.E. When Jews came to rededicate the Temple-which had been defiled by the Syrians-they found only one small flask of oil with which to light the menorah. This flask contained only enough oil for one day, yet the lamp burned for eight days (by which time a fresh supply of oil was obtained).

  • In Israel, the Hanukkah menorah is called the Hanukiyah
    Menorahs come in all shapes and sizes. The only requirement is that the flames are separated enough so that they will not look too big and resemble a pagan bonfire.

  • Ancient menorahs were made of clay. They consisted of small, pearl shaped vessels, each with its own wick, which were arranged side-by-side.
  • Today’s menorah, which stands on a base from which the branches sprout, resembles the holy Temple’s menorah and started to appear towards the end of the Middle Ages.

Latkes at Hanukkah

Classic Potato Latkes

Classic Potato Latkes

The most popular themes throughout the Hanukkah dishes are the use of oil. The oil reminds us of the oil which burned eight days instead of one. Latkes are potato pancakes made from grated potatoes mixed with eggs, onions, and flour, then fried in vegetable oil. The texture is crispy on the outside and tender within. They’re served hot and often dipped in apple sauce or sour cream. The Maccabbee soliders ate latkes made from cheese, vegetables, or fruits which were brought to them on the battlefields. However, they didn’t eat potato latkes, as potatoes weren’t available until the 16th century.

Hanukkah Dreidel
The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter inscribed on each side. In America the letters stand for “A Great Miracle Happened There“. In Israel the letters mean “A Miracle Happened Here“. Each player receives a given number of coins or candy pieces. Before spinning the dreidel, each player puts a fixed proportion of the amount received into the “kupah” or kitty. Each player in turn spins the dreidel. When the dreidel falls, it will fall on one of the 4 letters. According to the letter, the following will happen: Nun – no win / no lose Gimmel – take all (from the kitty) Heh – take half (from the kitty) Peh or Shin – lose (what you deposited) The game continues until players have run out of ‘funds’ or it is agreed to stop (anyone losing all funds is out of the game). The dreidel game was popular during the rule of Antiochus before the Maccabees’ revolt, a time when soldiers executed any Jews who were caught practicing their religion. When pious Jews gathered to study the Torah, they had the top ready in case they heard soliders approaching. If the soldiers appeared, they would hide the holy scriptures and pretend to play with the dreidl. In Israel the dreidel is called a sivivon. The yiddish word “dreidel” is derived from the German word “drehen“, or “turn“.

Sufganiyot – Hanukkah Jelly Donuts
Sufganiyot, fried foods recall the oil that burned in the temple

Sufganiyot, fried foods recall the oil that burned in the temple

Sufganiyot are jelly doughnuts without the hole. They’re dropped into hot oil without being shaped and come out in odd, funny shapes, then covered in powdered sugar and/or cinnamon. Sufganiyot are particularly popular in Israel, where they are sold on stands in the streets over a month before Hanukkah begins. Some great recipes can be found here.

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Helpful Information and Related Articles

The White House Hanukkah Celebration 2009
Hanukkah Food and Entertaining
Hanukkah Decorating
Hanukkah Gifts and Cards
Hanukkah Games and Songs


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The White House Hanukkah Party 2009

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama watch as a child lights the Hanukkah candles at a reception in the the White House, Dec. 16, 2009

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama watch as a child lights the Hanukkah candles at a reception in the the White House, Dec. 16, 2009

Obama Foodorama—December 16th was the sixth night of the Jewish Festival of Lights, and President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted their first Hanukkah party at the White House. The event spilled between the State Dining Room and the East Room, and a Jewish student choir will perform. A very special 19th century menorah was loaned to the White House for the traditional candle lighting ceremony, and it was lit by the two young children of a Jewish soldier deployed in Iraq. The special koshering of the White House kitchen was overseen by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who heads the Washington office of the American Friends of Lubavitch.

President Barack Obama with First Lady Michelle greets the crowd before his speech at Hradcansky square in Prague on April 5, 2009

President Barack Obama with First Lady Michelle greets the crowd before his speech at Hradcansky square in Prague on April 5, 2009

The sterling silver menorah is on loan from the Jewish Museum in Prague, at the request of Mrs. Obama, who visited when she was touring Prague’s Jewish Town in April, while President Obama was on his first official visit there. The menorah dates from 1783, and is the work of Viennese silversmith Cyril Schillberger. On December 1, Leo Pavlat, director of the Jewish Museum, handed the menorah over to Mary Thompson-Jones, Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States of America, in a brief ceremony. Pavlat noted that the museum was pleased to loan the menorah to the Obamas, and regarded it as a symbolic connection between the Jewish communities in Moravia and Bohemia and those in the United States. When she was in Prague, Pavlat acted as Mrs. Obama’s tour guide during her tour of Jewish historical sites.

Pavlat and Thompson-Jones during the menorah hand off in Prague

Pavlat and Thompson-Jones during the menorah hand off in Prague

On Dec. 11, the first night of Hanukkah, President Obama sent holiday greetings from the White House, in Hebrew and English:

הצהרת הנשיא אובאמה לרגל חג החנוכה

מישל ואנוכי שולחים את מיטב איחולינו לכל מי שחוגג בימים אלה את חג החנוכה ברחבי העולם. סיפור חנוכה של המכבים ושל הנסים שהם חוו מזכירים לנו שאמונה והתמדה הן כוחות עצומים המסוגלים לקיים אותנו בתקופות קשות ולעזור לנו לגבור על מכשולים כנגד כל הסיכויים.

חנוכה הוא העת לא רק לחגוג את אמונת העם היהודי ואת מנהגיו, אלא להעלות על נס את השאיפות המשותפות של בני כל הדתות. בשעה שבני משפחה, חברים ושכנים נאספים יחדיו כדי להדליק את הנרות, מי יתן והלקחים של חנוכה ישמשו השראה לכולנו להודות על החסד שנפל בחלקינו, למצוא מקור אור בתקופות אופל ולפעול יחדיו למען
עתיד יותר מלא אורה ותקווה

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Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama, addresses attendees at the 2009 Hanukkah Menorah Lighting Ceremony at the Ellipse, near the south grounds of the White House

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Rahm Emmanuel White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama joined two Rabbis in a cherry picker at the top of the menorah to ignite three oil lamps marking the 3rd night of the eight-day festival

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Enough Is Enough: Cantor Stands Up To Tea Partiers And Limbaugh

Posted by Audiegrl

cantor-tea-party-crowd-cropped-proto-custom_1TPM/Rachel Slajda—At yesterday’s tea party rally on Capitol Hill, at least one protester brandished a large graphic photograph of the victims of the Dachau Nazi concentration camp, comparing health care reform to Nazi policies. Today, Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) spokesman called the photograph “inappropriate.”

Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) has also condemned the poster.

teapartyzoomCantor, in an interview today with Bloomberg, also offered some criticism of radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s comparison of President Obama to Adolf Hitler.

Do I condone the mention of Hitler in any discussion about politics?” said Cantor, who is the only Jewish Republican in Congress. “No, I don’t, because obviously that is something that conjures up images that frankly are not, I think, very helpful.”

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South Carolina Republicans Use Jewish Stereotype to Defend DeMint

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC)

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC)

CBS News/Charles CooperWith friends like these…

Last week, State Senator Bakari Sellars wrote in The State that United States Senator Jim DeMint, R-S.C., had failed to do enough to get federal funding for the state. On Sunday, a couple of South Carolina Country Republican Chairmen defended DeMint in a joint letter to a local newspaper where they resorted to the stereotype of penny-pinching Jews to make their point.

In their response, published in The Times and Democrat, Bamberg County GOP Chairman Edwin Merwin and Orangeburg County GOP Chairman James Ulmer offered the following logic:

There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies and the dollars taking care of themselves,” Ulmer and Merwin wrote in their letter. “By not using earmarks to fund projects for South Carolina and instead using actual bills, DeMint is watching our nation’s pennies and trying to preserve our country’s wealth and our economy’s viability to give all an opportunity to succeed.”

Update from GOP Chairman James Ulmer’s office

Last week I co-authored a letter to the editor which focused on the vital importance of reining in the unsustainable and excessive federal government spending which is going on currently in Washington, D.C. In one of the paragraphs which I wrote, I quoted a statement which I have heard many times in my life, truly in admiration for a method of bettering one’s lot in life.

I admit that perception is indeed reality to many and that I could have certainly worded that sentence much better. I sincerely apologize for this great error. If I had quoted that great man from Pennsylvania, Ben Franklin, using his, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” I doubt I would be writing this note.

I meant absolutely nothing derogatory by the reference to a great and honorable people. I hope that anyone and all who were offended by my comment will accept my humble apology.~~James Ulmer

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Debbie Wasserman Schultz for President/Vice-President in 2016?

Written by Guest Contributor 2morrowknight

Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz

It almost happened in 2008. It could happen in 2016. At some point, and some point soon, we’ll see a woman in the White House. And her name might not necessarily be Hillary or Sarah. How’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz sound? I know, I know, you’re saying, “I’ve never heard of her. She doesn’t have the name recognition of Sarah Palin or the major public policy buzz of Kathleen Sebelius. And while she doesn’t have the baggage of a Michelle Bachman, she’s not a Governor or U.S. Senator.” All true. But listen up: Wasserman Schultz is riding a wave that will only get bigger, and she’s got a few advantages that few others in the field — woman or man — can match.

Here are five reasons she could be on the Democratic ticket in 2016:

Democratic Unifier
Throughout the 2007 and 2008 primary season, Wasserman Schultz was resolute in her support for Hillary Clinton. Whether on TV, radio, or in the blogosphere, Wasserman Schultz was unflappable. But when Barack Obama won the nomination, Wasserman Schultz quickly endorsed him and campaigned vigorously. None of this has been lost on Democratic leaders. Her tireless efforts to unify the Obama and Clinton camps won her kudos from the party faithful, and instantly made her a power player in national politics.

Florida. Florida. Florida.
Rep. Wasserman Schultz at a April town hall with her constituents.

Rep. Wasserman Schultz at a April town hall with her constituents.

Wasserman Schultz represents the Sunshine State in the U.S. Congress; having her on the ticket would give the Democrats the upper hand in the infamous I-4 corridor connecting Daytona Beach, Orlando and Tampa. Grab the middle and you win the state — Wasserman Schultz could be the Dems’ surest bet.

Her Jewish Heritage
Before last fall, nobody thought a Jewish-American would ever have a legitimate chance at the White House. But with the tolerant views of 80 million politically involved millennials who helped elect President Obama, Wasserman Schultz’s Jewish heritage won’t be a liability. How she weighs in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict between now and then will have a real impact on her standing in the Jewish community, but if she can find a way to please those folks while maintaining cred with younger voters, she could bring far more voters to the polls than Joe Lieberman did for Al Gore in 2000.

She’s Tough … Seriously!
Rep. Wasserman Schultz testifies during the nomination hearings for Judge Alito in January 2006.

Rep. Wasserman Schultz testifies during the nomination hearings for Judge Alito in January 2006.

By all accounts, she’s funny, engaging and benevolent. But if you’ve seen her on cable and network shows, you’ll know she’s also very skilled at dismantling nonsensical arguments, and, leaving unprepared opponents picking their faces up off the ground. And she has used her tenacity, and tirelessness, to fight for the rights of families, women and children.

The 2016 and 2020 Anniversaries
2016 isn’t just a presidential election year, it’s also the 100th anniversary of Jeannette Rankin being the first woman elected to the Congress. Her victory was all the more remarkable because women couldn’t vote — that didn’t come until four years later. The 2016 and 2020 elections promise to be reflective, euphoric and celebratory periods — and with her considerable political gifts, Wasserman Schultz could take full advantage of the great national mood.

And yes, I know, it’s still very, very early. A day in politics is like an eternity, and one day’s worth of political earthquakes could shake up or diminish any predictions. I know. But don’t tell me that a woman won’t be either president of vice-president seven years from now. I just wouldn’t bet against it. And I wouldn’t bet against Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz being that woman.

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Meet 2morrowknight…

2morrowknightlrgHe’s a author, blogger, and community activist whose work has been published in the Huffington Post, The Stimulist, Womentality Magazine and Essence.com. He has lectured at leading colleges and universities, including Morehouse, Spelman, and Emory University. As a volunteer internet strategist for the Obama Presidential Campaign, he created an effective, “50 State” email list that helped increase traffic to the campaign website and helped neutralize the falsehoods and misconceptions about then candidate Obama. 2morrowknight’s first children’s book is scheduled to be released in early 2010. Follow 2morrowknight on Twitter

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Museum Posts Only Known Video Footage Of Anne Frank To YouTube

Posted by Audiegrl

A video showing the 11-year-old Anne Frank for a just 10 seconds, the first moving image of the young diarist, has been viewed on Youtube by over 1.6 million people by Noon today.

In 1944, Anne died at 15 of typhus in the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, seven months after her arrest and just two weeks before British and Canadian troops liberated the camp. Her posthumously published diary has made her a symbol of all Jews killed in World War II.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank

Associated Press—AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — The Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam has begun airing the only known video of the teenage diarist on a channel dedicated to her on YouTube.

The channel also features clips of others, including her late father Otto and Nelson Mandela, talking about Anne, museum spokeswoman Annemarie Bekker said Friday.

Anne in 1941

Anne in 1941

It is really a great platform to show all the different kinds of films and documentaries about Anne Frank,” Bekker added.

The channel shows footage taken during a neighbor’s wedding on July 22, 1941. It briefly shows Anne before she and her family were forced into hiding to avoid the Nazis during their World War II occupation of the Netherlands.

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