Jews around the world are celebrating Hanukkah, a joyous occasion honoring family, light, and freedom. The event is a holiday held at home. This year, Hanukkah starts on December 22 and will last until December 30. The 8-day holiday falls on the darkest and coldest time of the year in many locations worldwide, and the event brings warmth and light into many homes and communities.
About 6 million to 7 millions Jews reside in Israel, but the Jewish population in the United States is higher, estimated to be about 5.7 million to 10 million in 2018. Other countries with significant Jewish diaspora include France, Canada, United Kingdom, Argentina, Russia, Germany, and Australia.
Hanukkah, the Most Important Jewish Holiday
Hanukkah is the Jewish version of the festival of lights, closely associated with the lighting of the menorah candles at night, offering special prayers and eating several foods fried in oil. Hanukkah in Hebrew translates to dedication, because it commemorates the Temple of God’s rededication. It is also a day to remember the time the Maccabees defeated the Syrian Greeks.
Lighting the menorah is the center of the Hanukkah festival because of the deep meaning it symbolizes. The menorah has eight candles and one attendant candle, the shamash. The sole purpose of the shamash is to light the other candles each night. Lighting the menorah involves strict protocols:
- The lit menorah should be placed near a window or on the doorway to provide light in the evening darkness.
- Jews light the candles 30 minutes after sunset. On Friday, they light the candles before sunset.
- On the first night, only two candles should be on the menorah or hanukkiah. The helper candle (shamash) is placed at the menorah’s center or on the side, separated from the eight slots.
- Place the first candle on the first night on the rightmost slot. The helper candle lights the first candle. After lighting the shamash, the person recites or sings three blessings over the candles. Light the first candle, place the shamash back in its slot and recite the Hanerot Halalu prayer. Allow the candles to burn. If you are going out, leave the candles to burn for 30 minutes before blowing them out.
- On the second to the eighth night, place one candle each on the menorah. The person lighting the menorah can stop reciting the three blessings but should follow all the other steps. Replace the shamash and the burnt-out candles every time. From the second day, place a new candle to the left of the first candle, going from the right to the left slots on the menorah. However, the person should light the latest candle first, before lighting the first candle, going from left to right direction. Use fresh candles each night so that they will be of the same height.
As part of the tradition, Jews only serve foods fried in oil during the Hanukkah. Favorite foods are potato pancakes (latke) topped with sour cream or applesauce and jelly-filled doughnuts (sufganya).
Jewish Culture, Customs, and Traditions
The basis of Jewish culture is ”healing the world” or Tikkun Olam. At the center of their culture is Judaism. Around 75 percent of the Jewish population follow Judaism. Likewise, family and community are vital to them. For the Jews, helping others is part of their being. They have their commandments from the Torah, which comprises the books of Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Numbers, and Leviticus. They pass the lessons they learned from the Torah to the generations after them.
- Orthodox Jewish men and women should dress modestly. Women must cover their collarbones, upper arms and the elbow, and the lower legs. Married women should wear hair coverings (tichel) or wigs (sheitel) over their hair.
- The men have to cover their hair with a skullcap (kippah), and should grow their sideburns (peyot) into long curls down just past the jawline. Men allow their beards to grow, as well. They do this according to the teachings of the Torah.
- Among the many traditions of the Jews, celebrating their holidays is one of the most vital. Some of the most important are Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. Jewish communities may have slight variations in observing these holidays, but they all celebrate their special occasions.
- Jews consider it their obligation to help widows, orphans, and the poor, and they regularly perform acts of kindness (chesed) through various charity work.
- Their family structure is patriarchal, and they want their children, their children’s wives or husbands, and grandchildren to live with them. The extended family can have about 50 to 100 people, as they also consider their assistants and assistants’ families like their own.
- Because of their religion, they eat kosher food. Jews avoid milk, eggs, shellfish, and pork, and they never use containers and pots used for preparing and cooking eggs, dairy products, and meats.
Despite their traditions and customs, Jews are very modern and follow a Western lifestyle. Younger generations are highly educated. They have several industries, including tourism, high-tech electronics, military equipment, metal products, diamond cutting and polishing, textiles, agriculture, food processing, and scientific and military research and development.
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Jews speak several languages, but the majority of the population speaks Modern Hebrew. They also speak Arabic, French, Yiddish, and Ladino, among others. Other languages influence many of the other languages spoken by Jews.
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eTranslation Services wishes everyone Happy Hanukkah! We pray that we all bring bright light, happiness, and better communication to people around the world.