A helpful guide about Hanukkah

Photo of a menorah, a religiously significant item used during Hanukkah. Photo by Ksenia Chernaya via Pexels.

The holiday season is fast approaching. There are multiple holidays and celebrations that are observed from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds. One of those holidays is Hanukkah, an eight-day festival of lights that takes place starting on the 25th day of Kislev. This is a period of time in the Hebrew calendar that usually takes place between late November and late December. 

Hanukkah originated over 2,000 years ago when Jewish people living in Judea (now Israel) were ruled by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who outlawed Judaism in his kingdom. He sent an army to Jerusalem to destroy the Temple, the holiest site for Jews at the time. During that period, Judah Maccabee, a Jewish priest, led soldiers to fight Epiphanes’s army. During that fight, there was a very small amount of oil that lasted for eight days, which kept the Temple lit during the battle. 

“To me, Hanukkah represents spending time with family,” said Dori Jacobs, a sixth-semester psychology and applied mathematics major and president of the University of Connecticut Hillel Student Board. She was recently re-elected to serve a second term as president and her roles as president include overseeing the student board, helping with planning events and maintaining the Hillel building that is on campus. 

For this year’s Hanukkah, which takes place between Dec. 10 and Dec. 18, UConn Hillel is not hosting any events since the holiday will be taking place during final exams. However, the group will be mailing students Macca-bags, which are named after Maccabee. The bags will include items such as a menorah, candles and dreidels.  

Jacobs was asked about how people who don’t celebrate Hanukkah can respect those who do celebrate the holiday. 

“Allowing students to reschedule deadlines, assignments and exams if they conflict with Jewish holidays is the best way to show respect,” said Jacobs. 

 During Hanukkah, Jacobs mentions, there are important traditions associated with the holiday which include praying and lighting of the hanukkiah, which is different from a menorah.  

Another tradition that is a part of Hanukkah is playing the game called dreidel. It involves spinning a four-sided top and the prize is often chocolate coins called gelt. Latkes — fried potato pancakes that can be accompanied with applesauce — are often served during Hanukkah as well.  

Before celebrating any holiday this season, make sure to follow the health guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and your local health department. Jacobs talked about what she thinks Hanukkah would look like during a pandemic. 

“I think many families will have to cancel their large celebrations in favor of Zoom calls and spending time with immediate family,” said Jacobs. 

She went on to mention, however, that at its core, Hanukkah would remain the same, since Jews around the world would light the candles and recite the same prayers each night of the holiday. 

If you are interested in learning more about Hanukkah or about Jewish culture on campus, follow UConn Hillel’s Facebook and Instagram accounts or email them at info@uconnhillel.org for more information.  

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