How much do you know about Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights?

·3 min read

Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish holiday closest to Christmas, starts Sunday, Nov. 28 and runs through Monday, Dec. 6 this year. How much do you know about the Festival of Lights?

We reached out to Marc Ekstrand, a rabbi at the Temple Emanu-El in Waterford, to ask about the history behind Hanukkah, the meaning behind the menorah, candle-lighting, and more.

We also swung by Congregation Ahavath Achim in Colchester to talk with Rabbi Ken Alter on his faith and the light Hanukkah brings that's shared with the rest of the world.

We've even got a few events in your local area if you're curious about celebrating with your Jewish community.

How did Hanukkah start?

The holiday's beginnings are surprisingly remarkable, as Ekstrand explains:

"Hanukkah primarily celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucids in the times of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The Maccabees rededicated the temple in Jerusalem. That's what Chanukkah, or Hanukkah, translates to: 'rededication.'"

"The Jewish army was able to defeat the Greeks," said Alter. "Because of that, we still have our Jewish religion. They were trying to assimilate us into their culture."

Congregation Ahavath Achim in Colchester.
Congregation Ahavath Achim in Colchester.

Like with Christmas and other winter holidays, much of what Hanukkah stands for is warmth, love and hope.

"It's a time of celebrating in the darkness of winter," Ekstrand said. "like many cultural traditions. Our hope is the light of our faith will spread out into the world, sharing a message of hope, peace and love.

"There are some competing ideas in Judaism on why we celebrate for eight days. The legend is when the Maccabees went to rededicate the temple, after it was ransacked, they found one small little jar of oil for lighting the eternal lights in the temple. They could only light a small lantern that, hopefully, would last long enough until they could make and bless more oil. The one little bit of oil, for the lamp that they lit, lasted for 8 days until they could make and bless enough oil to light the eternal lights."

The importance of the menorah

While we might vaguely understand the meaning behind the menorah, also called a Hanukkiah, Ekstrand was happy to enlighten us as to its true history.

"The menorah has eight places for lighting a candle and one central candle. The center candle lights the others, and they burn for an hour each day. We light one on the first night, two on the second night, three on the third night, etcetera.

"Throughout Hanukkah, those ideals of love and hope are increasing each night with each additional candle lit. You put the Hanukkiah in your window so that others can see the light and be moved by it."

Rabbi Ken Alter lights the first candle of Hanukkah at Congregation Ahavath Achim in Colchester. Rabbi Alter is in his 25th year at the Lebanon Avenue synagogue.
Rabbi Ken Alter lights the first candle of Hanukkah at Congregation Ahavath Achim in Colchester. Rabbi Alter is in his 25th year at the Lebanon Avenue synagogue.

"Hanukkah is so important because with all of the darkness in the world," says Alter. "Especially this year. We need more light in the world. As like with Christmas, it brings the joy out in people. We bring our menorahs together and light them together and share in that divine light."

Hanukkah events in your area

Looking to learn more about Hanukkah and join your local, Jewish community in celebrations? Why not take part in New London's Giant Menorah Lighting and Festival? Swing by Union Plaza Nov. 28 at 3:00 p.m. to partake in the start of Hanukkah.

There's the Women's Torah Study on November 30th at 141 Plant St in New London, too, which starts at 5:30 p.m.

Rabbi Ken Alter lights the first candle of Hanukkah at Congregation Ahavath Achim in Colchester. Rabbi Alter is in his 25th year at the Lebanon Avenue synagogue.
Rabbi Ken Alter lights the first candle of Hanukkah at Congregation Ahavath Achim in Colchester. Rabbi Alter is in his 25th year at the Lebanon Avenue synagogue.

Folks in Norwich can take part in a Cteen (Chabad Teen Network) Scavenger Hunt at the Congregation Brothers of Joseph. Bring the family Sunday, Dec. 5 at 2:00 p.m. for some holiday fun!

There are plenty of synagogues in Connecticut who have their own celebrations planned. Rabbis like Ekstrand and Alter encourage those curious to stop by their local temple and chat with their community; they'll welcome you with open arms.

This article originally appeared on The Bulletin: 2021 Hanukkah is Nov. 28 to Dec. 6: Eastern Connecticut rabbis explain

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