Happy Chanukah and Seasons Greetings to all. Chanukah, Hanukkah, or however you want to spell it is one of my favorite holidays because of the history and symbolism associated with it.
As a Jew, I have my given name and my Jewish name. My Jewish name, one of my middle names, is Yehudit, Hebrew for Judith, and in my case, named for Judith of Maccabee, the real heroine of the story of Chanukah.
The story of Chanukah is not well documented in the Talmudic literature and is documented sporadically and relatively perfunctorily in historical writings, so here is the Cecile B. DeMille version and the real story of what happened way back when.
The story begins in the Second Temple Period at about 200 BCE. When Judea was originally invaded by the Greeks, King Antiochus the Great guaranteed the Jews religious freedom and the right to worship in the
Antiochus took the city by force and at great cost in Jewish lives. He enslaved the Jews and outlawed Judaism. Anyone found observing the Sabbath or Jewish rituals was put to death. He plundered the city, took over the temple, looted the treasury and defiled the religious artifacts, and eventually erected a statue of Zeus in it and ordered the Jews to begin worshiping Greek Gods or be out to death. When he ordered pigs to be sacrificed on the temple alter, the Jews revolted.
The Maccabees led the revolt but the small, rather bedraggled group of Jewish freedom fighters was up against a much larger, well-armed and highly trained army. Still, they were able to hold their own and the conflict dragged on, costing much money and lives of invading soldiers. Annoyed by the hassle and the expense caused by this band of ragamuffins,, Epiphanes ordered one of his five star generals, Holofernes, to gather a massive army and end the insurgency once and for all.
Holofernes was regarded as one of the premiere military strategists of his time and with an army of 100,000, the rough and tumble Jewish boys didn’t stand much of a chance. This is where Judith comes in.
For all of his military acumen, Holofernes did have his weaknesses. He had quite an eye for the ladies and his roving eye eventually wandered to my namesake, Judith. He was so impressed by her beauty (I think I look just like her) that he ordered his soldiers to snatch her and bring her to his tent for dinner and …uhhhh….. dessert.
Now Judith was a gal who knew how to think on her feet. She plied the good general with lots of salty cheese (some say she actually made him quiche, something akin to my signature recipe) and encouraged him to wash it down with lots of sweet Jewish wine. In a word, she got him so drunk he passed out, and while he was snoring away, dreaming of doing the wild thing, she yanked his sword from its scabbard and cut his head cleanly off. Judith was definitely my kind of woman.
The upshot was that without their military leader, the Greek army couldn’t get out of their own way and the Maccabees, adept at guerrilla warfare, a military technique unheard of in those days, soundly routed them and sent them packing.
Once the Jews regained control of the
Although it occurs in December, usually in close proximity to Christmas, Chanukah is not the Jewish "equivalent" of Christmas, nor is it a significant gift giving occasion. Each night, we light candles, one the first night, two the next, and an additional candle each night until the eighth night when all the candles are lit. The mitzvah, or commandment, is to kindle the lights in front of a window or open door so the light can spread to the darkest corners of the world.
We also celebrate with traditional foods frind in olive oil. We serve latkes (potato pancakes) fried in olive oil, sufganyot, fried donuts, especially filled with jelly, and lots of sweets, chocolate candy gelt (chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil) being the favorite of children.