Hanukkah remains rooted in religion

November 27, 1999

Alex Coolman

Call it the Other Miracle of Hanukkah: Not the miracle that happened

more than 2,000 years ago in the Temple of Jerusalem when a day's worth

of lamp oil lasted for eight days, but the miracle that happens every

year in the United States when Hanukkah, a holiday that takes place

perilously close to Christmas, somehow manages to avoid most of the crass

commercialization that goes along with the events of the 25th.


Hanukkah, which takes place Dec. 3 to 10 this year, remains a fairly

low-key and meaningful event, despite the example of Christmas. In part,

this is because Hanukkah, as some local Jewish organizations will discuss

in upcoming programs, is a celebration rooted in a commitment to


Though Christmas has come to be an extremely secular holiday celebrated

by many people who don't hold any sort of Christian beliefs, Hanukkah is

an event whose entire reason for being is tied to the persistence of the

Jewish faith in the face of persecution.

The holiday marks the victory of the Maccabees, a group of Jews led by

Judah Maccabee, over the army of King Antiochus Ephiphanes in 165 B.C.E.

Antiochus had cut off the Jews' right to practice their religion and

imposed many other restrictions on their livelihood.

When the Maccabees retook the Temple of Jerusalem from the king, they

hoped to cleanse the temple of the "defilement" of their Greek enemies.

But only one day's worth of undefiled oil was available to burn in the

menorah of the temple, and it would take many days to prepare a new

supply.The small amount of oil is said to have lasted for eight days,

however. Today's Jews commemorate the event by celebrating eight evenings

of Hanukkah -- a word that means "rededication" -- each with its own

candle on the menorah.

Gift-giving is a part of Hanukkah because the holiday is supposed to

benefit the less powerful: children and the poor are often on the

receiving end of this impulse.

But celebration -- of religious freedom and religious community --

remains the strongest note of the holiday.

Local Jewish organizations have scheduled a number of events designed to

bring people together to mark the historic occasion.

Newport Beach's Temple Isaiah will hold a potluck dinner and its Hebrew

school will present a program on the history of the event. Temple Bat

Yahm plans events for every night of Hanukkah, including a concert of its

children's choir at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Dec. 5.,

religious school services Dec. 7 and 8 and a dinner for preschoolers Dec.


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