Diversity Matters: Hannukah
Earlier this month, readers learned about Diwali, one of the most significant holidays of the year in Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism.
Diwali is known as the “Festival of Lights” to those who celebrate — just like another holiday set to begin this weekend.
Hannukah is the “Festival of Lights” in Judaism — an eight-day celebration that marks the rededication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
To better support faculty, staff, patients and families who celebrate, here’s what you may not know about Hannukah.
Rooted in history
When the Maccabees (a small group of Jewish rebel warriors) retook the Temple in Jerusalem during the second century BCE from those in the Seleucid Empire, the Jewish people celebrated.
Why that celebration morphed into an eight-day festival is uncertain, but there is likely historical significance to the tradition.
“It has been said that when the Maccabees took over the Temple and began to rebuild it, there was only enough oil to light lamps for one day,” said Rabbi Sara Adler of Michigan Medicine’s Spiritual Care Department. “However, the oil ended up burning for eight days and nights, which is now known as the miracle of Hannukah.”
Another explanation is that it took eight days and nights to fully rededicate the Temple.
“No matter the explanation, Hannukah celebrates the rededication of sacred space and signifies a time of hope and renewal,” Adler said.
There are a number of traditions associated with the holiday. First, celebrants light a menorah — a special candelabra — each night. Families often say prayers and blessings together while the menorah is being lit.
Next, certain foods are popular during the festivities. Among the most well-known are potato latkes — essentially a fried potato pancake — and sufganiyot, or fried donuts filled with jams or jellies. These foods are significant because of their connection to oil.
Please be advised that candles are not allowed to be lit in patient rooms and if a patient requests a certain food item, check with his or her registered dietitian nutritionist to find out what can be provided at Michigan Medicine.
Finally, gifts are exchanged and games are played each night.
“The most common game played during Hannukah is ‘dreidel,’ which involves a four-sided top that children spin to try and win chocolate coins,” Adler said.
Each side of the dreidel corresponds with a Hebrew letter from an acronym that means “A great miracle happened there.”
Offering well wishes
This year, Hannukah begins at sundown on Sunday, Dec. 2 and ends at sundown on Monday, Dec. 10. The dates vary each year as it is based on the Hebrew lunar calendar.
It is appropriate to greet those who are celebrating with “Happy Hannukah” or “Chag sameach,” which means “joyous festival” in Hebrew.
“Hannukah is one of Judaism’s lesser, but most beloved and joyful holidays, especially anticipated by children.” Adler said. “It’s a unique holiday, and one that those who practice the Jewish faith look forward to each year. As the days grow shorter and nights longer, it’s a blessing to have the added light of Hannukah candles with us.”