One of the world’s most joyous holidays begins tonight. Hanukkah, sometimes referred to as the Festival of Lights, starts on the 25th day of the month of Kislev in the lunar Jewish calendar and lasts eight days. Most years, it falls solidly in December in the secular calendar, but Hanukkah’s week-plus occasionally begins in late November and, in rare years, can spill over into early January.
The holiday commemorates the victory by the Jewish Maccabean army over Greek occupiers in 165 B.C. and the subsequent rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following its desecration by the invaders. Just a scant amount of clean oil was available to light the temple candelabrum for rededication ceremonies, but it burned for eight days.
Hanukkah’s miracle has evolved into the holiday’s most recognizable symbol, the eight-candled (or eight-lamped) menorah, patterned after the temple candelabrum and lit each of the eight nights in Jewish homes here in Costa Rica and around the world.
For more about menorahs, we turned to the experts, the students at the HebrewDay School in the western San José district of Rohrmoser. They have been learning about the holiday as part of their studies and told us the story of Hanukkah during a visit last week by The Tico Times:
“The high priest lit the menorah in the HolyTemple every day with oil.”
–Itzjac Lechtman, 1st grade
“In the times of the Temple, Antiochus, King of Syria, conquered Jerusalem. The Greek soldiers entered the Temple and destroyed and made the oil impure.”
–Leah Fainzilber, 5th grade
“With God’s help, the Maccabees won the war against the Greeks and finally were able to return to Jerusalem. Upon entering the Temple, they saw that the oil was impure and would not be able to light the menorah.”
–Shterna Spalter, 5th grade
“After searching, they found one small jar of oil untouched by the Greeks and with the special seal of the high priest.”
–Gitel Spalter, 3rd grade
“This oil would only be enough to burn for one day, and to bring new oil would take eight days. A miracle occurred. The oil burned for eight days. By then, they already had the new oil.”
–Simon Rosenstock, 3rd grade
“To remember this great miracle, we light the menorah of eight branches for eight days.”
–Liat Salas, 2nd grade
“The menorah has one tall branch (besides the eight) called the shamash. The shamash is used to light the other candles.”
–Sigal Wigoda, 2nd grade
“The menorah, also called the chanukiah, is lit with oil but can also be lit with candles. Each night, one more candle is added from left to right.”
–Tania Aizenman, 3rd grade
An observant home lights its candles each of the eight nights, but menorahs – it’s a menorá in Spanish – go public in a big way this time of year too.
Amid the tinsel and glitter of that other December holiday, look for menorahs in four San José-area shopping malls. As part of its worldwide outreach to Jewish communities, the local branch of the international Chabad Lubavitch movement installs menorahs during this season at the west-side Multiplaza and the eastside Mall San Pedro, Multiplaza del Este and Terramall.
At five meters tall, Costa Rica’s largest menorah stands year-round in western San José’s La Sabana Park and is illuminated each of Hanukkah’s eight nights (see box).