On Hanukkah, we celebrate two miracles that happened to the Jewish people more than 2,000 years ago at the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
The Greek-Syrian army of King Antiochus had taken over the land of Israel and had slowly begun to Hellenize, or to make the populous adopt the Greek ways of doing things. Many things the Greeks did at the time were antithetical to Jewish beliefs and practices.
Many Jews did adopt the Greek ways, but many kept to their traditions.
Finally, King Antiochus made decrees against the Jews observing major tenets of their faith and tried to make the Jews worship the Greek idols. A group of Jews fled to the Judean Hills and, led by Matisyahu, the High Priest, started to fight back against Antiochus’s army.
The first miracle we celebrate is that a small band of Jews called the Maccabees won against the much bigger and powerful army of Antiochus.
The second miracle we celebrate is, after the battle was won and we reclaimed the Holy Temple and cleaned it up, one cruse of pure olive oil was found to light the menorah. Even though the cruse only had enough oil to burn for one day, it burned for eight days until they were able to get more oil.
Today, we commemorate the first miracle by adding a special paragraph in our daily prayers during the eight days of Hanukkah.
We commemorate the second miracle by lighting candles in our own menorahs or “Hanukiahs.”
In addition to lighting candles (which sometimes are oil candles), we have a custom to eat oily foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and Suganiot (jelly doughnuts). There is also a custom of playing dreidel (a spinning top with letters to commemorate the miracles).
The message of Hanukkah is one of recognizing the miracles that happened then and that continue to happen nowadays in our daily lives.
There is also the message of bringing light to the darkness and publicizing the miracle.
This year, in order to publicize the miracle, Chabad of Penn State will host a grand menorah lighting ceremony in downtown State College.
We will light the 9-foot-tall menorah with the traditional blessings. Afterward, we will have music, crafts for children, hot potato latkes, chocolate Hanukkah coins, dreidels, hot chocolate, a raffle and more in the lobby of the Municipal Building.