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Hanukkah honors profound struggle of Jewish people

PLATTSBURGH Hanukkah has come and gone, but for those outside the Jewish faith of Judaism, it may have left many wondering what the celebration is all about. According to Rabbi Heidi F. Waldmann, leader of Temple Beth Israel, Plattsburgh, Hanukkah is an eight-day religious holiday which commemorates the victory a small Jewish army had over surrounding forces who wanted Jews to abandon their faith in God to sacrifice to the Greek gods. The greatest blow, she said, came when Syrian king Antiochus IV desecrated the Temple at Jerusalem by replacing the holy altar with a statue of Zeus, and sacrifices to pagan gods. After a three-year battle, the Jews, led by Judah Maccabee, reclaimed and rededicated the temple. The Hebrew word Hanukkah means dedication. According to the Talmud, the record of Jewish law and legend, when the Jews began the repurification of the temple, they found only enough consecrated oil to burn for one day. That bit of oil burned for eight days and eight nights long enough to prepare and consecrate new oil, said Rabbi Waldmann. It is from this legend that the primary observance of Hanukkah, the lighting of the menorah for eight days, arises. The holiday of Hanukkah, commonly referred to as the Festival of Lights, is observed beginning on the 25th day of Kislev the ninth month of the ecclesiastical year on the Hebrew calendar. Hanukkah doesnt appear in Jewish scriptures, Rabbi Waldmann added, as the events occurred in the 2nd century, well after the canonical writings were complete. It is, however, told in First and Second Maccabees, found in the part of the Christian bible known as the Apocrypha. Hanukkah has taken on additional meaning for many members of the Jewish faith, said Rabbi Waldmann, since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. The struggle of Israel to survive and preserve Jewish culture is seen as similar to the Maccabees struggle against the hostile forces which surrounded them. Hanukkah reminds us of the power of persistence in the face of powerful obstacles, said Rabbi Waldmann. It is also a cautionary tale about the dangers and lures of zealotry and assimilation. It is, most emphatically, not a Jewish Christmas. It should be noted that Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday, and it is only in the U.S. and only with the increasing commercialization of the season that the two have been linked. Until the middle of the 20th century, Rabbi Waldmann added, Hanukkah gift-giving heard so much of today was practically unknown. However, the custom of giving children small coins, or gelt, is quite old and is said to signify the ability and obligation to use material wealth for spiritual pursuits, she said. Many have also seen variations in the spelling of Hanukkah. Rabbi Waldmann said because Hebrew uses a non-Latin alphabet, transliteration into English letters is purely phonetic and inexact at best. Chanukah, Channukkah, Hannukah, Hannukkah and several other variants are widely accepted, she said. In order to educate others about Judaism, Temple Beth Israel is planning to offer a three-session course in January called A Taste of Judaism: Are You Curious?, which will be sponsored by the Union for Reform Judaism. The course, which will be offered free of charge, is designed for those who would like to learn more about Jewish beliefs, ethics and values, regardless of their religious background. The course will require not textbook or homework. Rabbi Waldmann may be contacted at Temple Beth Israel, located at 1 Bowman St., for more information, or by calling 563-3343.

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