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Rabbi Explains the Meaning of Hanukkah

Eight days of presents is what some may think about upon hearing the word Hanukkah. But Rabbi Robert Orkand, senior rabbi at Temple Israel in Westport, says there is more to the holiday than that.

"Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas," Orkand said of the holiday that begins Wednesday night. "It is about the first recorded fight for the right to be different. It's a time to say, 'Yea, we are Jews and we are different,' but not in a negative way."

Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees. These Jewish revolutionaries fought the Assyrians, who tried to force their religious beliefs on the Jews.

Not only were the Maccabees victorious, they also reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which had been desecrated by the Assyrians. In cleansing the temple, Orkand said the Maccabees went to rekindle the eternal light but found only a small amount of oil. Although they didn't think the oil was enough to last even one day, they lit it and miraculously, it burned for eight days.

Though there's a serious theme behind Hanukkah, Orkand said it's "a fun, family holiday." Unlike Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Hanukkah isn't a biblical holiday. As such, it's celebrated at home, not in a synagogue.

"For almost all Jewish history, Hanukkah was a minor festival," he said. "But from an educational/historical viewpoint, I think it's an extraordinarily important holiday because it marks the first time in recorded history that any people went to battle for religious freedom."

Beyond giving gifts, the most prevalent Hanukkah tradition is lighting candles on the Menorah. Eating foods fried in oil, to remember the oil that lasted for eight days, is another key symbol.

"My favorite holiday traditions are lighting candles, being together with family, eating latkes, and even exchanging presents: the idea of giving something to someone you love," Orkand said.

Do you celebrate Hanukkah? What are your favorite holiday traditions or favorite holiday memories? Share your story below or via email : we'd love to hear from you! Happy Hanukkah from The Daily Westport!

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