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Hanukkah: Let your light shine

in Glocal/History/My Leipzig by

Growing up, there was a Jewish kid in my class. I remember him telling me about Hanukkah. I was a bit envious. 8 days of presents?!

Of course now I know that’s not really what’s it’s about.

Today’s Hanukkah message is something we can all use at one point or another.

There are times when life seems unbearable due to circumstances beyond our control. No  matter how dark you think things are at the moment, there is light ahead. Just be patient. This too shall pass.

Hanukkah (or Chanukah) this year starts today. Its origin dates back to Jerusalem 332 BCE, when Alexander the Great took control of Israel. Thus began their Hellenistic period. Prior to this time, Israel was very focused on traditional Jewish values, with the temple being at the centre.

Gold Armband with a Triton (a sea god) holding a baby Eros - 200 BCE - Greek | The House of Beccaria~ at Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gold Armband with a Triton (a sea god) holding a baby Eros – 200 BCE – Greek | The House of Beccaria~ at Metropolitan Museum of Art

Greek culture, on the other hand, was very sophisticated and focused on things like education, philosophy, physical prowess and worldly pleasures. The Greeks were quite happy to let the Jews worship as they may. They only asked they embrace Greek culture.

Some Israelis remained traditional, while others were totally immersed in the new culture, especially among the elite. Material wealth and human centric art was becoming more and more popular.

People were traveling and the common international language was Greek.

One the whole,  it went well, though the traditional Jews and the Hellenistic Jews struggled to understand each other. Greek culture saw the world as a global village and promoted mixing, while traditional Jewish culture forbade intimate interaction, including dining together.

The Middle Court during the First Temple period.
The Middle Court during the First Temple period.

Things continued in much the same way until 175 BCE when Antiochus IV ascended the throne. Within a few years he had renamed Israel after himself, defiled the temple by placing Greek Gods on the altar, banned the Torah and outlawed many Jewish practises.

Things got worse and worse until, in 167 BCE, it was time to rebel. A priest, called Mattathias , and his five sons led the revolt. After two years, they were successful in liberating the temple. Hanukkah is the celebration of the temple’s rededication.

So, how is Hanukkah celebrated today?

Cat proof wooden menorah http://scathingly-brilliant.blogspot.de/2013/11/my-cat-friendly-menorah.html
Cat proof wooden menorah http://scathingly-brilliant.blogspot.de/2013/11/my-cat-friendly-menorah.html


Since the time of Moses, there had been a seven flame solid gold candlestick or menorah. In Jewish oral tradition, the menorah stood 18 handbreadths high, or approximately 1.62 metres (5.3 ft). It symbolized the ideal of universal enlightenment, with the light of God represented by the central lamp. The menorah also represented Creation in seven days, with the center light representing the Sabbath. After 300 years in the wilderness, it was placed in the temple in Jerusalem.

Naturally, once the temple was liberated, it was very important to light the menorah. Unfortunately there was only enough oil for one day. They lit that and then went out for more. Miraculously, the light stayed lit for the eight days it took to return with the oil.

That’s why people have a nine candle menorah for Hanukkah. The big one in the middle is the shamash (“attendant”) and you use it to light the others, one day at a time. There are all possible kinds these days. They can be as simple as nine birthday candles.

Photo credit: mealmakeovermoms via Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND
Photo credit: mealmakeovermoms via Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND

Latkes and doughnuts

Since they needed oil for the menorah, it is customary to eat foods fried in oil. Doughnuts and latkes or potato pancakes come in all shapes, sizes and varieties. Try some.

They also feast for eight days, celebrating with family and friends.


The term "dreidel" comes from the Yiddish word dreydl, which means "to turn."
The term “dreidel” comes from the Yiddish word dreydl, which means “to turn.”


Since learning the Torah was forbidden, they had to find a way to out smart the guards. That’s what gave birth to the dreidel or top. Kids would pull them out and play if anyone came near enough to hear what they were actually doing.

Today, it is a game that can be played with chocolate coins or sweets. It’s a bit like poker.



Maeshelle West-Davies gleans her varied life experiences to expose a personal perspective through a multitude of mediums. Sound, video, photography, dance, performance and public art are the tools she uses to convey her message. Her work is a response not only to a physical journey, but an emotional one, as with all of us who walk along or beside our individual paths.


  1. WOW! I cannot be more happy to see also in the amazing city that I live in interest to my heritage as well, I wanted to find any inaccuracy but there was none to be found. Thank you very much Maeshelle!

  2. I just saw your article. I am so glad you wrote it! I have twice asked the Dean`s Office to wish us not just Merry Christmas in December, but to no avail. Considering that East Germany had the lowest number of people in Germany (and in Europe) registered as religious (I believe about 20%, recently rising slightly) after 1990, it is surprising that the Dean`s Office does not send out secular wishes. But if it does send greetings with a religious reference, then it should refer to all religions. They do not celebrate holidays at the same time, but one could solve this problem somehow. During all these years in Leipzig, I received only once Happy Hannukah wishes from a colleague. I should add that I am not a believer, but it is just so nice to see an aspect of one`s identity acknowledged. So thank you again, Maeschelle.

  3. I grew up having Jewish friends. Most celebrated a mix of traditions. I have always tried to be sensitive and inclusive. When I sent cards, I tried to find ones that said “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas”. This was the first time I looked into the traditions and the history behind Hanukkah. Learning is always the key to understanding. I am glad have a small role in supporting respect. Hopefully others will follow.

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