Shaarei Shamayim

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The Story Of Chanukah...

The Story Of Chanukah...

  The real story of Chanukah is important and meaningful to American Jews. The simple story of the eight-day oil miracle (where there was only enough oil to keep the Eternal Light lit for one day, but which continued to burn for eight days), which many of us were told as children, was sufficient for the years of the European ghetto and other places where our Jewish community was a passive guest in the land. This is not true for the American Jewish community. Here we have to emphasize the full story to ourselves and our children as well as to our non-Jewish friends.

  Chanukah came from a specific, historically recorded, Greek-Jewish conflict. It is a part of recorded Jewish history, Greek history, and is even in the Christian Scriptures.

  Israel had agreed to be ruled by Alexander the Great rather than be conquered by his sword. Jews happily embraced the Greek lifestyle. The Greek approach to life, beauty, logic, and learning found willing recipients in Israel. As fast as American Jewish generations became Americanized, so the Jews of Israel became "Hellenized."

  There was one cultural exception: our religion remained generally intact. Religious difference was not a problem of that time, because winners rarely cared about a conquered nation's religion. The Greek attitude was simply: "We have our gods, you have yours, and we won. Let us govern and collect our portion of the taxes and tribute, and you can do what you want in your religion and temples."

  As the years passed, we Jews became more and more Hellenized. The Judaism of our fathers mattered less and less as we rapidly fit into this exciting modern society.

  Then, in 168 BCE, the Greek/Syrian king of the area changed the rules. A Greek idol was erected in our Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and we were compelled to worship and make sacrifices to the Greek gods.

  It would be nice to say that the Jews arose in anger, but we didn't. There was some anger and frustration, but, in and around Jerusalem, we were so assimilated that Judaism held a low priority in our lives.

  However, out in the countryside, one family said "No!" They stood up and openly revolted against the king. To them, their relationship with Gd was more important than their relationship with the state.

  When the Greeks sent their soldiers to quell the bothersome countryside rebellion, they found themselves fighting a citizen guerrilla army. Time and time again the Greek conquerors were sent home frustrated and beaten.

  The rebels, who came to be known as the Maccabees, spread throughout the countryside, taking control of villages and towns. They encouraged Jews in areas under their control start taking their Judaism seriously.

  The rebellion grew until it arrived at the gates of Jerusalem. The Jews of the city joined the ranks of the Maccabees, more from fear of the rebels than because of religious fervor. What had started as a small group of 600 now stood against the Greeks as an army of 16,000 Jews!

  The Greeks were defeated and retreated toward Syria for reinforcements. Once home, they decided not to return because they were needed more in other conflicts. The Holy Temple had been recaptured. Jerusalem was free! The practice of Judaism was once again safe.

  The important eight-day harvest festival of Sukkot had been missed during the battles, so Sukkot was celebrated while the Holy Temple was being re-sanctified.

  The real message of Chanukah is very powerful, yet little known. Chanukah is the celebration of Jewish resistance against the forces of assimilation. It is the commemoration of a declaration that people should worship as they please, no matter what the "majority" does.

  Chanukah, as a modern Jewish holiday, should be a modern Jew's statement against abandoning our traditions and celebrations to the cultural and religious celebrations of the society in which we live. Chanukah is a holiday that reminds us of our unique heritage, so very different from that of the prevailing culture in which we live.

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Chanukah Practices             

Each Jewish home should have as beautiful a Chanukah Menorah as it can afford. Place the Chanukah Menorah in a conspicuous place in your home, by the window or door. When placing an electric Menorah in the window, make sure the lights can be seen on the right side from outside the window. The lights should be kindled as soon as possible after nightfall, however, every effort should be made to see to it that all members of the family are present at the ceremony of the lighting of the candles. Special Chanukah candles are required for use in the Menorah. Not only men, but women and children as well may kindle the Chanukah lights.

Chanukah Gelt

   This is the term used to indicate "Chanukah gifts." One of the most joyous parts of Chanukah for the children, as well as grownups, is the giving of gifts. In former times each father would give his child "Chanukah Gelt" ("Chanukah money") to use in playing dreidel.  It is nice to give such gifts after the lighting of the candles.

   This is a wonderful opportunity to show benevolence. Place a Shaarei Shamayim Pushke on the table and contribute to your synagogue. Instill a sense of regard for the needs of our less fortunate brethren. Indicate to your children that an occasion of joy in our lives should be made an occasion of happiness for those persons who are in need. It’s also a good time to pay your dues and all you financial obligations to your shul.

 Lighting The Candles

 GO SCREEN FREE FOR 30: Two years ago, TAG Chicago (The Technology Awareness Group) encouraged families to go “screen free” for the first 30 minutes after lighting candles. It is a small step that can have a huge impact on a family’s ability to tap into the tremendous potential of the Menorah and use that time to strengthen their bonds and add holiness to their home.

The Menorah, or candelabra, holds eight candles and a Shamash or servant candle. The Shamash is kindled first and then used in the lighting of the other candles.

   On the Eve of Chanukah (1st candle) only the Shamash and one other candle are used. The next night the Shamash and two other candles are kindled—and so on, adding a candle each night, until on the last night, the 8th day of Chanukah, the whole Menorah is filled with burning candles.

   NOTE:  Always remember to kindle first the candle on the left.  Move towards the right, i.e., on the first evening of Chanukah, one candle is kindled. It is placed on the far right of the eight-branched Menorah, as you face the Menorah, two the second night, and so on each succeeding night the candle for that particular evening, which is to the left is lit first. In other words, on the last night of Chanukah, the 8th candle is kindled first, then the 7th and so on, moving toward the right, in keeping with the Talmudic rule that all the turns made in the Temple had to be towards the right. Since the lights are only for illumination and as a remembrance of Gd’s miracles done for us, they must not be used for any other purpose; therefore, the extra candle, serving as the Shamash (attendant), is used for lighting of the Chanukah lights

            On Friday, the Chanukah candles are kindled BEFORE the lighting of the Shabbat candles. Try to use at least one candle (the new one for the day) that will burn for at least a half hour after candle lighting. Longer candles can be bought in Judaica Corner. Some extend the burning time by freezing the candles beforehand. 

   On Saturday night, the Chanukah candles are kindled after "Havdalah" (which marks the conclusion of the Sabbath) has been recited.

   The hymn Moaz Tzur, which is sung after the lighting of the Chanukah candles, was composed presumably in the thirteenth century by one called Mordecai whose name is given in the first letter of the initial five stanzas. Maoz Tzur alludes to the deliverance of the Jewish people from the oppression of Egypt, Babylonia, Persia and Syria. In addition to the religious practices prescribed for the observance of Chanukah, celebration and parties are customary, particularly while the Chanukah lights are burning, since work is forbidden during that half hour or so.

 How Shall I Light

The Chanukah Candles?

Inasmuch as the ceremony of the kindling of the lights is the most significant phase of the Festival, it should be observed in a spirit of reverence and solemnity. Seek to make it beautiful as well as impressive. The entire family should remain standing around the Chanukah Menorah as the father lights the Shamash. It is preferable if each member of the family has its own Menorah. As the Shamash candle is held aloft, the first blessing over the Chanukah light is chanted.


"Blessed art Thou, O Lord our Gd, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments and has commanded us to kindle the Chanukah lights."

   Immediately following the "Bracha," the second "Bracha" is recited.


"Blessed art Thou, O Lord our Gd, King of the Universe, who performed miracles for our Fathers in days of old at this season."

   The following blessing is said on the FIRST evening ONLY:


"Blessed art Thou O Lord, our Gd, King of the Universe, who has kept us in life, and has preserved us and enabled us to reach this season."

  Parents are urged to invite their children to kindle at least one of the candles. Grant them the opportunity to participate in the ceremony as much as possible.


Want To Play A Game?

   Children love nothing more than a good game. There are enough interesting Chanukah games so that you can play with your children all eight nights without tiring of them.

   The traditional Chanukah top is the dreidel. There are Hebrew letters on the sides of the dreidel, and several games can be played, depending on how the letters are interpreted.

   The dreidel game is based on the Hebrew letters and is similar to "put and take." The Hebrew letters, G-Sh-N-H form the initials of Nes Gadol Haya Sham (a great miracle happened there). They also form the word Goshna (G-SH-N-H), which comes from Genesis 46:28, read on Shabbos Chanukah, where we are told that Jacob sent Judah to Goshen to build a school of learning. The numerical value of Goshna (358) is the same as that of Moshiach (Messiah). After every turn each player puts one coin in the pot to keep the game going. The meanings of the various letters in this game are as follows:

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 G-Gantz, Player takes whole pot.

H-Halb, Player takes 1/2 pot.

N-Nisht, Player takes nothing.

S-Shtel Tzu, Player adds an extra coin to pot. 

A time limit is agreed upon at the start.  Player with the most wins.



                                                 LATKES IN LARGE QUANTITIES


                                       Serves 4 to 6

   6 medium potatoes              1/2 c. flour

   1 onion                                 1 tsp. salt

   2 eggs

                                       Serves 12 to 18

   18 medium potatoes            1 1/2 c. flour                                       

   3 onions                               3 tsp. Salt                                           

   6 eggs

                                       Serves 16 to 24

   24 medium potatoes            2 c. flour

   3 onions                               4 tsp. salt

   8 eggs

It is better to work with 18 potatoes at a time and do as many batches as you need. Scrub potatoes well and quarter. Quarter onion. Put through electric grinder. Strain well. Beat eggs well; add salt. Add to potatoes. Stir in flour. Drop by tablespoons into frying pan with hot oil (375). Brown well on both sides. Drain on paper towel. Spread on cookie sheet if they are to be frozen. Flash freeze. Remove from freezer and bag. Remove from freezer and reheat at 450 for five minutes on cookie sheet. 

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