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The story of Chanukah, the Festival of Light, is well summarised in the lyrics of the traditional Chanukah song Mi Yimalel (Who can retell?) above. The melody is a familiar one, almost as familiar as that of Maoz’Zur (Rock of Ages) that is probably most synonymous with this time of year. 

What's the history?
Chanukah is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire of the 2nd century BC.

The Hellenists, led by King Antiochus, implemented a harsh series of rules designed to ensure that the Jewish community assimilated and abandoned their own identity and traditions. Many Jews complied, but appalled by this, Judah Maccabee, his brothers and accomplices led a revolt against the far more numerous Hellenist army and were successful. Upon defeating the soldiers of the King, the Maccabees entered the temple to find that it had been desecrated and a statue of Zeus had been erected there. Clearing the temple and putting it back into order they lit the Ner Tamin (Eternal Light) to rededicate the temple but, with little oil and all supplies drained, they feared that the light would dwindle quickly. By some miracle however, the oil proved sufficient to enable the candle to burn for 8 days until fresh supplies were procured.

What do people do?
Chanukah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.

There is much to celebrate including the miracle of the oil lasting for 8 days and the bravery and dedication of the Maccabees who refused to abandon their religion and their identity. Latterly it has also become customary to acknowledge the lives that were lost during what was a period of intense conflict and bloodshed.

The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a nine-branched menorah or hanukiah, one additional light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night.. The extra light is called a shamash (Hebrew "attendant") and its purpose is to light the other candles.

Traditionally children are given presents on each of the eight days particularly Chanukah ‘gelt’, invariably chocolate money. Other Chanukah festivities include playing with the dreidel (spinning top) and eating oil based foods such as doughnuts and latkes.

How do we celebrate at Westminster Synagogue?
We will light candles on our beautiful large menorah, often during Chanukah we will have one night where we invite all the community to join us to light the chanukiah together.

Fri, 2 December 2022 8 Kislev 5783