What organizers are billing as the West Coast’s largest Hanukkah celebration will be held Sunday evening at Universal CityWalk on the final night of Judaism’s eight-day commemoration of the temple rededication that followed the Maccabees’ victory over a larger Syrian army in 165 B.C.
Chabad of the Valley’s 17th annual Chanukah Festival will be held from 6-9 p.m. and include performances by Jewish musical stars Benny Friedman and Benny Elbaz and the lighting of a 15-foot, 1,000-pound menorah.
Thousands of people are expected. Admission is free.
Once the Jews defeated the Hellenist Syrian forces of Antiochus IV at the end of a three-year rebellion, the temple in Jerusalem, which the occupiers had dedicated to the worship of Zeus, was rededicated by Judah Maccabee, who led the insurgency begun by his father, the high priest Mattathias.
According to the story of Hanukkah, Maccabee and his soldiers wanted to light the temple’s ceremonial lamp with ritually pure olive oil as part of their rededication but found only enough oil to burn for one day. The oil, however, burned for eight days in what was held to be a miracle.
Hanukkah — which means dedication in Hebrew — is observed around the world by lighting candles in a special menorah called a Hanukkiah each day at sundown for eight days, with an additional candle added each day.
The reason for the lights is so passers-by should see them and be reminded of the holiday’s miracle.
Other Hanukkah traditions include spinning a dreidel, a four-sided top, which partially commemorates a game that Jews under Greek domination are believed to have played to camouflage their Torah study, and eating foods fried in oil, such as latkes, pancakes of grated raw potatoes, and jelly doughnuts.
Children receive Hanukkah “gelt” (the Yiddish word for money) from parents and grandparents. The tradition originated with 17th century Polish Jews giving money to their children to give their teachers during Hanukkah, which led to parents also giving children money.
In the United States, the practice has evolved into giving holiday gifts to children and others.
Unlike on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, or Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, observant Jews are permitted to work and attend school during Hanukkah, the only Jewish holiday that commemorates a military victory.
“The meaning of Hanukkah is about the triumph of hope in the face of adversity,” Rabbi Ilana Grinblat, vice president of community engagement for the Board of Rabbis at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, told City News Service.
“The holiday begins with the lighting of one candle and a candle is added each night until eight candles are lit on the last night, along with the shamash, the candle which is used to light the others. This increasing light represents heightened joy.”
At a Hanukkah celebration Thursday at the White House, President Donald Trump said, “This year, (when) we light the menorah, we reflect upon the extraordinary resilience of the Jewish people in the face of centuries of oppression.
“Throughout history, we have seen that no darkness can overcome the light of the Jewish faith and that no evil can overcome the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people.”
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