Live always at the edge of poetic possibilty, even in the face of severe prose. - Walter Bruggemann

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hanukkah in Jerusalem

"So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days"

1 Maccabees 4:56
During the reign of Alexander the Great the Jews were able to observe their religious traditions and faith. It was only a century later that Antiochus IV, who was a successor of Alexander took control of the region. He began to oppress the Jews. He placed a Hellenistic priest in the Temple and from that point on the Jews were massacred and prohibited from any expression or observance of their religion. The Hellenistic cult took over the Temple, the most holiest of places for the Jews, and it was desecrated.
Matthathias the Hasmonean and Judah Maccabee opposed Antiochus. They revolted against the oppressive Seleucid Greek government and in December of 164 BCE three years of persecution ended. The revolution was a success; the Temple was rededicated.

According to tradition and legend, at the time of the rededication there was precious little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the Temple menorah which was supposed to burn throughout the night, each day. They only had oil enough for one night. But, a miracle occurred! The menorah burned for eight nights. Jews celebrate Hanukkah as the miracle of the oil. It is not a religious holiday based on Torah but a very meaningful, beautiful sight to see here in Jerusalem.

For Christians there is a connection in the Gospel of John 10: 22-23. "At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon". I did a number of things to celebrate and learn about Hanukkah. Below is my reflection in photos and words.

I attended a seminar offered by the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity on Hanukkah. In addition to the lecture of the historical account of Hanukkah we had a walking tour around the Old City in Jerusalem to view some new archaeological exposed sites revealing a Hasmonean wall. We also viewed from Ir David (City of David) a meeting point in the Kidron Valley and talked about where the Hellenistic Akra was located.

I attended two parties and a concert. The above picture is of Sagit, my bellydance teacher! We had a dance party on the 6th night of Hanukkah. She is lighting the candles on the Hanukkiah and saying the accompanying blessings. The Hanukkiah has eight candles and the Menorah has only seven. The candle in her hand is called the Shammas or servant candle, the one that lights all of the rest throughout the eight days of Hanukkah.

The other party I attended was a celebration on the third night of Hanukkah. I was with first year Rabbinical students from Hebrew Union College. We lit candles and they sang. This was not so tame of a party considering it was mostly 20 somethings letting loose after a long day of study. My friend and neighbor is a student...she's my age.

The United Synagogue Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center for Conservative Judaism is down the street from my house. On the 7th night of Hanukkah was a concert given by the students of the HL Miller Cantorial School of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. This year there are six students, all women. The name of the concert was "Sing and Rejoice O Daughter of Zion".
From their program, "In North African countries, the 7th night of Hanukkah, Judith's night of triumph was set aside as Hag haBanot, the Festival of the Daughters. It falls on the new moon of the Hebrew month of Tevet, which is the 6th or 7th night of Hanukkah. Many different traditions developed, one was that woman would come to the synagogue, touch the Torah and pray for the health of their we know very little about this particular holiday, but it nevertheless is important to reclaim this authentic women's tradition for our own time."

It was a beautiful concert. The students began singing in the balcony behind us and came down the steps ending on the bemah. Each woman lit a candle and then told of the tradition and lifted up the names of significant other women in their lives, grandmothers, mothers, friends. It was quite touching.

The photographs below are of the Hanukkiyot in different neighborhoods. Almost every evening I took a walk because the candlelight illuminated the night which now begins so early. The custom here is to put the Hanukiah outside or inside in the window so that everyone can seem. In fact, if I'm not mistaken it's a mitzvot, a commandment.

A family on their balcony lighting candles, I could hear them singing.

And, last but not least, traditional food is latkes, like potato pancakes fried in oil and sufganiot - jelly donuts fried in....oil of course. So, let's just say, I'm fried. Hope you enjoyed Hanukkah through my experiences.

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