TORONTO – Originally meant to mark a brutal battle of religious and cultural survival, Hanukkah is now celebrated to exult the values of family, charity and unity.
Tuesday marked the first night of the Jewish holiday, an eight-night celebration that involves the lighting of candles, the gathering of family, the singing of songs and the exchanging of gifts.
The trademark ritual of Hanukkah is the lighting of candles in the menorah.
“On the first night, one candle is lit,” said Rabbi Jarrod Grover of Beth Tikvah synagogue in North York. “On the second, two candles are lit…until we get to the eighth night (and) all the candles are lit by this one candle that is held higher than the rest of them.”
While Hanukkah is “a relatively unimportant” holiday compared to others in the faith, added Grover, it remains significant in its purpose of uniting families within a Jewish world that is becoming increasingly divided because of varying cultural and religious viewpoints.
“The major lesson of this holiday is how things can get out of control when people set unity aside and become uncompromising in either their religious fervour, or their political fervour, or whatever issue it is they’re passionate about.”
And it is ironic, said Grover, that Jews originally created a holiday to commemorate a military victory, when celebrating warfare is typically not done in the Jewish faith.
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, came to be in Jerusalem around 165 BC. It commemorates the reclaiming of a holy temple by a pious group of Jews called the Maccabees from assimilationists wanting to embrace the Greek culture that was growing within parts of what is now known as the Middle East.