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by Rabbi Mark S. Diamond

The Hebrew word Hanukkah means "dedication." The roots of this name, and the Hanukkah holiday, come from the second century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). Chafing under foreign domination, a band of Jews led by Mattathias took to the hills of Judea in open revolt against the Seleucid regime of Antiochus IV.

Mattathias' son Judah took charge of the rebellion after his father's death. He was given the nickname "the Maccabee" ("the hammer"). Antiochus sent thousands of well-trained and well-armed troops to the land of Israel to crush the rebellion. The Maccabees responded with a brilliant campaign of guerilla warfare, and succeeded in driving the foreigners from their land.

Jewish fighters entered Jerusalem in December, 164 B.C.E. They found the sacred Temple in shambles, defiled and desecrated by foreign soldiers. They cleansed the Temple and re-dedicated it on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. They observed a feast of dedication for eight days in honor of their historic victory.

The contemporary observance of Hanukkah features the lighting of a hanukkiyah, a special Hanukkah menorah with eight branches and a ninth holder for the shamash, or helper candle. Popular legend connects this ritual with the tale of the cruse of pure oil that miraculously burned for eight days rather than one.

On the first night of Hanukkah, two candles are placed in the menorah. One serves as the shamash to be used for lighting the other candle. On each successive night, another candle is added to the menorah. By the time we reach the last night of Hanukkah, eight candles are glowing brightly in celebration of this beautiful festival.

Other familiar Hanukkah customs include spinning the draydal (a special top with Hebrew letters on the sides), eating potato latkes (pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and giving gifts of gelt (coins) to children.

In the broad sweep of Jewish tradition, Hanukkah is considered a minor holiday. It is not a yom tov, a holy day, akin to Rosh Hashanah or Passover. Hanukkah, like Purim, is a post-Biblical holiday, a happy, fun-filled celebration for the young and the young-at-heart.

The traditional greeting Jews extend to one another during this holiday is hag orim same'ah. Happy Feast of Lights! Happy Hanukkah!

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How to Play Dreidel

There is a long tradition of playing games of chance during the evenings of the holiday. Originally the dreidel was not connected with Chanukah in any way. The German Christians also had the custom of spinning a top on Christmas eve. The Germans borrowed the game from the Greeks and Romans.

The Dreidel is a four sided top printed with the Hebrew letters:

nun gimmel heh shin

These letters represent the words "nes godal hayah sham" and translate into A Great Miracle Happened There.

Everyone in the game starts with 10-15 tokens (nuts, raisins, matchsticks, pennies). Each player puts one of these into the middle (called the pot). The dreidel is spun by one player at a time. Whether he wins or loses depends on which face of the dreidel is up when it falls.

Nun means nisht or "nothing." Player does nothing.
Gimmel means gantz or "all." Player takes everything in the pot.
Heh means halb or "half." Player takes half of what is in the pot.
Shin means shtel or "put in." Player adds two objects to the pot.

When only one object or none is left in the pot, every player adds one. When an odd number of objects are in the pot, the player rolling heh, "half" takes half the total plus one. When one person has won everything the game is over.


I have a little dreydl,
I made it out of clay;
And when it's dry and ready
Then dreydl I shall play.
O, dreydl, dreydl, dreydl,
I made it out of clay;
O dreydl, dreydl, dreydl,
Now dreydl I shall play.

It has a lovely body,
With legs so short and thin;
And when it is all tired,
It drops and then I win.
O dreydl, dreydl, dreydl,
With legs so short and thin;
O dreydl, dreydl, dreydl,
It drops and then I win!

My dreydl is always playful,
It loves to dance and spin.
A happy game of dreydl,
Come play, now let's begin.
O, dreydl, dreydl, dreydl,
It loves to dance and spin.
O dreydl, dreydl, dreydl,
Come play, now let's begin!

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Jelly Doughnuts


2 cups oil
2 cups buttermilk or yogurt
3 1/2 cups self-rising flour
I teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs
1/3 teaspoon salt
powdered sugar


Heat the oil in a deep pot. Mix ingredients, except powdered sugar, until dough has smooth texture. Use two spoons to form tablespoon size lumps and drop into hot oil. Fry until golden brown and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Option: Insert jam before frying.
Serves 6-8

Potato Latkes


9 medium potatoes
2 medium onions, minced
3 eggs, slightly beaten
3-4 tablespoons matzo meal (ordinary barley cereal tastes best)
I teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
salad oil


Wash, peel, and grate potatoes. Place in colander and let stand for 10 minutes, then press out remaining liquid. Mix with onions (the onions may be lightly fried first) and eggs. Add matzo meal, salt, pepper, and baking powder. Mix well. Heat about 1/4 inch of salad oil in a large skillet and add soup-spoonfulls of latke mixture. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Keep in warm oven (180 degrees) until time to serve. Can be made up to a week in advance and frozen. (If not frozen, the potatoes will turn brown.) Reheat in 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Serve with applesauce, sour cream (or plain yogurt), jam, powdered sugar, or cinnamon.
Serves 6-8

Recipes by Israela Banin
From "Entertaining on the Jewish Holidays"

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dreidelJCN: Hanukkah

dreidelBilly Bear's Hanukkah

dreidelHanukkah - Festival of Lights

dreidelCaryn's Guide to a WWWonderful Holiday Season

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