In the third century BCE, Alexander the Great created one of the largest empires the ancient world had ever seen. For the Jews living in Jerusalem, the Greek presence in their holy city brought a number of challenges. The conquests of Alexander the Great caused the spread of Hellenistic culture, with values and beliefs which were antithetical to the Jewish way of life and the Torah.
After Alexander’s death, a new ruler, Antiochus IV, came to power to oversee the region. Jews were no longer allowed to practise their faith. The study of Torah was forbidden, keeping Kosher and the Sabbath became illegal and the Greeks even began to desecrate the holy Temple in Jerusalem.
The story of Hannukah tells of a miracle that allowed a small band of Jewish resistance fighters to win a battle against the Greek army, allowing them to regain Jerusalem and the holy Temple. When the Jews arrived at the Temple and found it desecrated, they decided to try and light the Menorah, a seven branched lamp-stand which was lit daily in the
Temple with only the finest, purest oil. Yet they could only find enough pure, “un-desecrated” oil for one day and it would take 7 days to make more and bring it to the Temple. The miracle was that the oil lasted for 8 days.
This is why we celebrate Hannukah, an 8 day festival where we light a Menorah with eight branches, one branch for each night of Hannukah and place it outside our windows. We eat oily food – doughnuts and latkes (potato pancakes) and we play Hannukah games as a family whilst the candles burn.
Hannukah for me has always been a festival associated with family, happiness and joy. It is a symbol that as Jews living in modern times, we remain strong as a nation and in our faith. Hannukah reminds me to be thankful that in today’s society, we can practice our faith with no fear of discrimination. We can place our Menorahs outside our windows for the world to see the symbol of our hope and belief in G-d (Jewish people often refrain from writing out the full name of God).
I recently spent Hannukah in Jerusalem and as I walked through the streets one night, I could hear Hannukah songs being sung by families sitting together by the candles. I could see every Jewish home with a Menorah outside their window. I could smell doughnuts on every street corner. A sense of peace emanated from every home and I was struck with a powerful feeling. I was part of history, part of a nation which has been celebrating festivals together for thousands of years.
My Hannukah prayer to you is that we shall all continue to be tolerant and respectful of each others faiths and beliefs, to embrace our diversity and to share in the joy that family brings.
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