Chanukah is an eight day festival of light that falls in the Hebrew month of Kislev (typically December in the secular calendar). The word Chanukah, meaning “dedication” in Hebrew, refers to the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem when a small group of Jews, led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers, were victorious over Syrian armies in 165 B.C.E. The Syrians sought to destroy the Holy Temple and the practice of Judaism, but the small Jewish army prevailed. The story of Chanukah is not mentioned at all in the Torah, or Hebrew bible, but is found in a group of later Hebrew writings called Macabees I and II.
We associate Chanukah with miracles not only because of the military victory of the Macabees, but because of a later Talmudic story describing a single day’s supply of oil lasting for a full eight nights. This miracle enabled the Jews to replenish their oil supply during the rededication of the holy Temple.
Chanukah provides an opportunity for us to celebrate light during a time of early sunsets and lengthening evenings. We literally bring light into the darkness by lighting the Chanukiah, a special menorah for Chanukah. We use a shamash, (helper candle) to light the menorah, adding one additional candle each night until our Chanukiah glows with all eight candles plus the shamash on the final night. We remember the Talmudic miracle of oil by enjoying foods prepared in oil including latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts). We also play dreidel, a game with a spinning top where they aim to win coins or treats such as chocolate foil-wrapped coins called gelt.
We celebrate the light of community by coming together in various ways throughout the holiday: We light the Chanukiah and sing Chanukah songs during Shabbat Chanukah (the Friday that falls during Chanukah). We also invite everyone to join our clergy and LCLJ students for chanukiah lightings in the lobby of our community house for many of the eight nights of Chanukah.
For helpful how-to videos, resources to learn more about the holiday’s history and customs, recipes, eCards, and family activities to help you celebrate, visit ReformJudaism.org.
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the Chanukah lights.
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, she-asah nisim laavoteinu v’imoteinu bayamim hahaeim baz’man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in days of old at this season.
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu laz’man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.
Learn about our family Chanukah programs »