This year, Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, begins at sunset on Sunday, December 6 and ends on Monday, December 14. The holiday is an eight-day celebration that begins on the 25th of the Hebrew month, Kislev. Lauren Chevlan, volunteer for NCHS and the Jewish Historical Society of Napa Valley, contributed this post.
Napa’s Jewish community will have a few opportunities to celebrate the Festival of Lights. Congregation Beth Shalom (CBS), under the direction of Rabbi Lee Bycel, will gather at the Harvest Inn on the first night of Hanukkah, December 6th, to enjoy a latke party which will include the traditional lighting of the menorah, singing, dancing and storytelling. The celebration continues on the following Friday evening at the synagogue where a Hanukkah dinner and menorah lighting will occur. In Lyman Park in St. Helena, a Hanukkah Menorah will again be erected for the community to enjoy.
A holiday tradition which began a few years ago takes place not on Hanukkah but on Christmas. The “CBS Ladies of the Table” will once again serve a delicious Christmas dinner to guests in need. The Table serves those in the community who are in need of a hot meal. Church groups and civic groups take turns shopping, preparing and cooking meals for delighted guests. This Christmas, in addition to the meal, guests will leave with a gift bag, all donated by the folks of Congregation Beth Shalom.
History of Hanukkah
In the fourth century B.C., Alexander the Great with his Greek armies conquered the Near East including the land we know as Israel. After his death the empire split apart and Israel came under the control of the Seleucid dynasty which ruled the region of Syria. In 167 B.C., King Antiochus Epiphanies sought to Hellenize all those under his control, including the Jews. As a result, Jewish practices were outlawed and places of worship were defiled.
One day a Greek detachment came to the city of Modi’in and set up an altar. They commanded the Jews there to bring a pig to sacrifice. In Judaism, the pig is a symbol of the unclean and Jews are forbidden from eating its flesh. To bring such an animal into a sacred space is an abomination to Jews. The local Hebrew priest, Mattathias, was so enraged when he witnessed a fellow Jew who was about to comply with the decree, that he killed him. He and his five sons then fought the Greek detachment and eventually retreated to the mountains where they began a war against Antiochus’s army. Before his death from old age, Mattathias passed on the leadership to his son, Judah the Maccabee, who was able to defeat the Greek detachments and liberate the holy city of Jerusalem and rededicate the Temple. In Hebrew, “Hanukkah” means dedication. Once reclaimed, the Maccabees sought to light the Temple’s Menorah but could only find one small cruse of oil, enough for only one day. But when the Menorah was lit, a miracle occurred: the oil lasted for eight days. Since then, Jews around the world remember the bravery of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil.
The holiday in modern times is celebrated by the lighting of an eight pronged menorah called “Hanukkiah”, playing games such as “dreidel”, a spinning top with four sides where “gelt” is won or lost, and the eating of fried foods such as potato pancakes called “latkes”.