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Hanukkah Starts at Sundown

The Festival of Lights comes to Millburn-Short Hills with menorah lightings.

Hanukkah, or the festival of lights, takes place on 25 Kislev of the Jewish calendar and the secular date moves around every year, generally falling somewhere between the third week of November and the third week of December.

This year the first day of Hanukkah is Friday.  At nightfall area Jews will be lighting the first candle on their menorahs with family and friends. Each night the number of candles lit from left to right is increased, until all eight candles are glowing on the eighth night. After candle lighting, most likely they'll be enjoying potato latkes or jelly donuts, eating Hanukkah Gelt (chocolate coins) and playing dreidel games, not to mention opening presents.

Locally, the Chai Center is sponsoring a public menorah lighting on Millburn Avenue across from Millburn High School at 4 p.m. Friday. They will light the menorah at 4 p.m. on the final night too and  at 6 p.m. the rest of the week.

The first night celebration will include dreidels and gelt and candles so everyone can join. Other Chai Center-sponsored activities include a teen party on Dec. 13 and a family party Dec. 14 in Short Hills; and Hanukkah on Ice on Dec. 12 at the Union Sports Arena.

The nursery school students at Congregation B'nai Israel has been getting ready for the holiday by making gifts for their parents. According to Rochelle Baron, school director, "the 2 year olds made jewel boxes, the 3 year olds made picture frames and the 4 year olds created menorahs."  At Friday night services, the Hanukkah candles will be lit before the Shabbat candles. 

There will also be a Hanukkah candle lighting at Temple B'nai Jeshrun during Friday night's services. Earlier in the week, kindergarten students from Andrea Kessler's class dressed up for the holiday as candles and meeting with area senior citizens to celebrate. Older students from grades three, four and five will have "Helping Hannukah" parties on Dec. 21 and 22, volunteering for community-based projects. They also created a "Mitzvah Mountain" of toys and presents to be donated.

The Hanukkah candles are lit in a special menorah, a Hanukiyah, which has eight branches and a helper candle, or shamash. Regular menorahs have seven branches, but Hanukkah menorahs always have nine. In order for a Hanukiyah to be appropriate and kosher, the shamash must be elevated above the other candles.

The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 164 BCE. About ten years earlier, Judaism had been outlawed and the temple was dedicated to the Greek god Zeus.  Judah Maccabee recruited a group of fighters to reclaim the temple, which they were able to do after years of fighting.

Once the temple was cleaned and restored to a Jewish religious function, however, they found they only had enough oil to light the ever-lasting light for one night. It would take at least a week to purify additional oil. With no choice, the lamp was lit and expected to burn down quickly. But, as the legend continues, a miracle occurred and the lamp burned for a full eight days.

Because the Hanukkah is associated with oil, it's become traditional to enjoy fried foods, like latkes or the jelly donuts called Sufganiyot, on the holiday.   Hanukkah gelt started out as small amounts of change given to children to celebrate the holidays. The chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil that we think of as Hanukkah gelt is a relatively modern American innovation.

Very often gelt is used for playing dreidel games. A dreidel (spinning top) has a Hebrew letter on each side:  Nun, Gimel, Hay, Shin, which form an acronym for a "great miracle happened there," referring to the miracle of the lights in the Temple in Jerusalem many years ago.  When playing dreidel, coins are won or lost depending upon which side is up when the dreidel falls.

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