Archive for Saturday, December 4, 1999


December 4, 1999


Many non-Jews have misconceptions about Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday that begins tonight.

Lots of people have heard of Hanukkah.

But outside the Jewish community, there's some confusion about what this holiday really is.

"People think Hanukkah has more significance than it actually does, or that it's the Jewish Christmas," said Leni Salkind, a member of the Lawrence Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland Drive.

"Hanukkah marks a time in history, and an event that we remember and celebrate. It's a fun holiday, but it's not a particularly serious one. We light candles in the evening, we have a Hanukkah party and make traditional foods at home," said Salkind, who's also a member of the Lawrence school board.

"But I get the feeling non-Jews think it's the Jewish Christmas. They affix more importance to Hanukkah than what it actually has."

Hanukkah, an eight-day celebration that begins tonight, is also called the "Festival of Lights."

Hanukkah celebrates the victory of an army of poorly equipped Jewish freedom fighters -- the Maccabees -- over the Greek army in 165 B.C.E. and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem for Jewish worship, according to the New York City-based Jewish Appleseed Foundation Inc.

In 168 B.C.E., the Jewish population in the area that today is called Israel rebelled against Greek laws that prohibited them from practicing Judaism. The Greeks had invaded Jerusalem -- the center of Jewish worship -- and dedicated it to Zeus, a Greek god.

A Jewish priest named Mattathias and his son, Judah, led the Jewish rebellion against Greek rule. Then in 165 B.C.E., Judah and his soldiers defeated the Greek army and took back the Temple in Jerusalem. They cleaned the Temple and rededicated it for Jewish worship.

The word "Hanukkah" in Hebrew means "to dedicate for a holy purpose." In English, the word is spelled a variety of ways.

Lighting candles

When the Maccabees rededicated the Temple, they needed oil to light the sacred, seven-branched menorah, a candelabrum that stood inside. They only found enough pure oil to last one day. But the oil lasted for eight days.

It's a universal custom for Jews to light a nine-branched hanukkia or menorah each of Hanukkah's eight nights, adding a candle each night. The ninth branch holds the Shamash -- the "helper" candle -- used to light the other candles.

Another custom is to eat foods cooked in oil to commemorate the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days. Jews from Eastern European backgrounds eat latkes -- potato pancakes -- with sour cream or applesauce.

Jews from the Middle East or Spanish-speaking countries eat doughnuts, often filled with jelly.

The giving of money to charity -- called tzedakah -- is encouraged during the holiday. It's also traditional for children to receive gifts, but that's not a major emphasis.

'It's just fun'

"I think the most common misconception is that it's this big huge holiday on the calendar," said Mayaan Pase, programming director of Kansas University's Hillel House, 940 Miss.

"In fact, Hanukkah is one of the least important holidays on the Jewish calendar. It's not something that's found in the Torah (the Hebrew Bible). It's a time of rejoicing because of the miracles that happened.

"Non-Jews think it's (primarily) a holiday to get presents, like Christmas. But getting presents is an idea that's really come up in America. Historically, it was never anything like that. Hanukkah's been Americanized," Pase said.

KU Hillel is the central organization for Jewish students at the university.

Salkind and her husband, Neil Salkind, a professor in KU's School of Education, typically celebrate Hanukkah with a festive gathering at their home.

"We're having people over Sunday evening, we're making latkes and we'll light candles (on the menorah). We always invite our friends who have young children, our next-door neighbors and old-time friends from Kansas City. It's just fun," she said.

-- Jim Baker's phone message number is 832-7173; his e-mail address is

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