“Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration, celebrated by the Jewish people and by friends of the Jewish people. It’s a time when we remember a situation that happened about 2200 years ago, so a couple hundred years before Jesus,” said Izzy Avraham, who follows the Jewish faith.
On Hanukkah, the Jews regained control of Jerusalem and the eight-day Festival of Lights began on the day the central temple in Jerusalem was cleansed and rededicated to Judaism.
The name Hanukkah derives from a Hebrew verb meaning, ‘to dedicate’.
It was born in blood and a fight for religious freedom when a Greek-Macedonian king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, decided to invade Judea and that his reign would be strengthened by eradicating Judaism.
“He viewed the Jewish people’s distinctiveness as a problem and a threat to his agenda,” said Avraham.
Some modern scholars argue that he got between the traditionalist Jews in the country and the Hellenized Jews in Jerusalem an decided he would do well to side with the Hellenized Jews and outlawed Jewish traditions and religion.
Whatever the reason, he made a definite effort to eliminate Judaism.
“He really cracked down on the Jewish religion … he banned Jewish people from circumcising their sons, or studying the Torah, like the holy books, or resting on … the Sabbath, on Saturday,” he said.
He also built Hellenistic or Grecian god worship sites and demanded that they worship to those gods as well as slaughtering pigs on holly alters and forcing Jews to eat pork which is forbidden to them.
The Maccabees refer to the Jewish people who engaged in gorilla warfare to defeat Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Over a number of battles, the Maccabees won, regaining their temples. It is this reclamation that the Hanukkah festival celebrates.
“They cleansed and they rededicated the temple and that’s were the word, Hanukkah or rededication comes from,” Avraham said.
The Talmud, a Jewish holy book, states that there was only enough olive oil to keep the menorah, a candlestick, lit in the temple after the rededication ceremony for one day. However it is said to have burned for eight days, the time necessary to prepare fresh oil for the menorah. This is regarded by many as a miracle and is so commemorated with an eight-day celebration.
The menorah is made up of eight main candles plus one more to light the others.
“The middle candle is called the Shamash, or the servant candle and it is used to light the other eight candles. And those eight candles symbolize the eight days of Hanukkah.
Prince Albert’s Jewish community is quite small and is what Avraham calls a revivalist community.
“It’s like we’re a Jewish community, but we’re not all Jewish and I think most of us also would say that we’re followers of Yeshua, Jesus,” Avraham said.
He says their community is about 20 or 30 members.
“We got together as a community and we lit the Hanukkah and we remembered the story of the Maccabees and how they defeated Antiochus and rededicated the temple. We talked about what it meant to us personally. There’s this theme of rededication. There’s this theme of holding on to our distinctives (cultural traits) and of fighting for freedom, not just for ourselves but for everyone,” Avraham said.
“It’s really celebrating religious freedom,” he added.
The fact that Canadians have the freedom to follow their own beliefs no matter their creed is really the spirit of Hanukkah, he said.
The celebrants also enjoyed traditional food, such as donuts, which is a tradition steaming from a desire to commemorate the miracle of the oil that they eat things that were cooked in oil.
“It’s probably one of the funniest traditions. Because it’s like oh Hanukkah, it’s the miracle of the oil and the oil lasted for eight days and so we use that as an excuse to eat donuts because donuts are cooked in oil. Very meaningful,” he said and laughed.
The Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah begins on the 25 day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, and occurs at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.