Our storyteller Joel tells us the Story of Hanukkah
The Story of Hanukkah
Storytelling by Joel Taras
Hi, I'm Joel and I'm here to tell you the story of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. Chanukkah, if you're fancy but you don't actually have to make the “huh” noise. Hanukkah is a word in Hebrew that's translated to english so “ha” or “huh” either is cool.
If you want to try making the “huh” noise you can, simply by pretending there's something caught in your throat. Or if you're really good at rolling your r's, instead of doing it with the tip of your tongue to make the “rrrr”, if you do it wth the back of your tongue fast enough it makes a “huh”noise. So Hanukkah or Chanukkah, doesn’t matter, what does matter is that I am here to tell you the story of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights.
Our story begins thousands of years ago, in the second century BCE or around the year minus 200. At this point in history there was a massive nation called the Greeks and they had formed this military empire and had taken over so much of the known world that they're one of the largest empires, in terms of land mass and history. Now one of the territories they had taken over was called Jerusalem and it is the holy city of the jewish people. Now the Greeks weren't very nice and they decided that everybody that lived under Greek rule had to follow Greek laws and even worship Greek gods. As a result of this decision they started smashing the jewish temples and churches called synagogues. This was very unpopular and pretty mean; if you worshipped your own gods or went by your own rules, you were punished by the Greeks. So one day a brave, brave man named Judah Maccabee stood up and said, “Hey that's enough!”
So, Judah Maccabee gathered all the jewish men and taught them very quickly how to use a spear and a shield and they formed a military group called the Maccabees, a super cool tribe of freedom fighters who were ready to stand up and fight for their rights. Now the Maccabees and Judah, they marched out of Jerusalem to go fight the Greeks - drive them off and regain their rights. And they left behind a group of civilians, women and children. And they sought shelter in a temple. They had very limited supplies, they had a little bit of food and Jerusalem's in the desert- so it gets cold at night in the desert. And in one of the temples they found a small container full of oil.
So this group of women and children had decided to take the small container of oil that they had found and burn it- to keep warm as the sun was going down. Now one small container of oil should really only last about one night, but they lit it anyway. They used the light from this fire to start fixing up the temple that they were staying in and they stayed warm. And they said prayers for their husbands the soldiers, the Maccabees who were out standing up to the greeks. Then the night came and the desert grew cold and they gathered around the fire to stay warm.
So this keeps happening, they keep falling asleep next to this fire fully expecting it to go out and when they awake the fire is still roaring. It happens again and again night after night. A full week goes by. This fire is still burning and it was supposed to go out on night one. So on the eighth day this fire is still burning and Judah Maccabee returns with the whole Maccabee army. They had won! They'd won this military victory against a much larger army, which in itself is a miracle. And when Judah enters the temple and sees that it has been fixed up and that this fire is still burning. He acknowledges that his military victory and this fire that sustained his people could only be explained by a miracle. God had helped the Jewish people.
So, today we celebrate that miracle oil that kept the Jews warm and safe by lighting candles on a really cool candle holder called a menorah, we do this for eight nights in a row. We also get eight nights of presents. We also eat foods that are cooked in oil - so there are potato pancakes called latkes and jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot.
So if you see a menorah in a windowsill with some candles burning those people are Jewish. They're celebrating Hanukkah, which usually falls in December so it'll be around the same time as Christmas. Those people are warm and safe around a fire just like the Maccabees were a couple thousand years ago. And they're also celebrating getting presents and eating jelly donuts.