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Sun, Aug. 18

Jews Celebrate Chanukah, Festival of Lights, This Week

Jewish homes in the Quad City area will get special lights this week as their menorahs fill with candles to celebrate Chanukah, "the Festival of Lights."

Chanukah is an eight-day observance that commemorates the successful revolt, ca. 200 BCE, of the Maccabees and their allies against the oppression of Antiochus IV, an Assyrian-Greek tyrant who massacred Jews and attempted to wipe out Jewish practices. The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated under Antiochus.

Jewish tradition holds that the Maccabees defeated the much larger occupying army and expelled them from the Holy Land. But when the victorious Maccabees entered the Holy Temple they couldn't find any pure olive oil to kindle the menorah. Their search turned up a small jar that contained only enough oil to burn for one day. Instead it burned for eight days. The Jews considered it a great miracle.

"To commemorate the miracle, Jews light candles in their menorahs for each of the eight days that the jar of oil burned," said Rabbi William Berkowitz of Temple B'rith Shalom in Prescott.. "Chanukah means renewal-when the Maccabees restored the Holy Temple," Berkowitz noted. "Symbolically, Jews who observe Chanukah are renewing their belief in the power of faith to overcome oppression. It's a celebration that unites Jews all over the world."

Chanukah is a special time for Jewish children. "Since Chanukah falls near Christmas each year, our kids have a chance to celebrate the holiday season through their own faith," Berkowitz added. "Our tradition is to give children a small gift for each night of Chanukah. We also eat special foods, such as potato latkes (pancakes) and doughnuts because they're made with oil, reminding us of the oil that burned for eight days."

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