WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Hanukkah, the Jewish wintertime festival of lights starts Saturday. Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky from Wilmington’s Temple of Israel stopped by Good Morning Carolina to talk about the history of the holiday and his special message for this time of year.
He explains that about 2,200 years ago in the Middle East, King Antiochus the Fourth came in. He was a ruler of the Salusid Empire and they conquered the whole area, which included modern day Israel. King Antiochus was persecuting the Jews. A group called the Maccabees decided to fight back against the persecution. After a number of battles, they were able to win back their Holy Temple in Jerusalem. They reclaimed the temple, rededicated it and that’s what the word ‘Hanukkah’ means… “dedication” or “re-dedication”. When the Jews found the temple defiled, there was one cruse of oil that was only supposed to last for only one day, but it miraculously lasted for 8 days.
The rabbis and the Talmud, the Jewish oral law, interpreted the story to mean that Hanukkah its to celebrate and commemorate not only the victory of the Maccabees, but the miracle of the oil lasting for 8 days. That’s the reason there is a nine branch candelabra, one candle for each of the eight days and one candle used to light the other candles.
The holiday celebrates the Jewish victory but is a minor festival in Jewish calendar. It has become a much more prominent festival because of the time of year. Every culture, every religion, even groups that are not religious, have festivals of light at this coldest darkest time of year. The festivals are a message of hope, joy, and light when it is easy to despair. Hanukkah is celebrated in ways that symbolize aspects of the holidays, but also just ways to enjoy the season.
Typically, every night of Hanukkah, a family lights the Hanukkah Menorah, the nine branch candelabrum. They start with two candles, one for the first night and one to light the candle with. Each night they add one additional candle. So on the eighth and final night, all nine candles are lit. That symbolizes increasing the light and joy this time of year.
Rabbi Sidlofsky explains that, to him, the message of Hanukkah is “to stand up for our freedom, to take pride and joy in our religion, and to respect those of others.” He says, “whether you celebrate Hanukkah, or Christmas, or any other festival this time of year… take joy and take pride in your own customs, but also feel free to enjoy the other aspects of other people’s cultures and religions and be able to celebrate the season.”