<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The traditional lighting of the nine-branched hanukiah lamp, gorging on delicious donuts… the Jewish festival of Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Observed for eight nights, it starts on the 25th day of Kislev (this year, December 24 to January 1), according to the Hebrew calendar.A story of victoryIn 200 BC, Judea (Israel) fell under the rule of the Seleucid king of Syria, Antiochus III, who allowed the Jews freedom to practice Judaism. His son Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who was not as kind, forced them to worship the Greek gods. But, his soldiers massacred several Jews in Jerusalem and desecrated the Second Temple. Not long after, Mattathias, a Jewish priest, led a revolt against the Seleucid monarchy. When he died, his son Judah took his place, bringing the Jews to victory. The temple was cleansed and rededicated; “it was a reaffirmation of their faith,” shares Solomon Sopher, president of the Baghdadi Jewish community. According to the Talmud, the menorah in the Temple could only be lit with undefiled olive oil. The oil they had should have been sufficient for only one night, but “it lasted for eight nights,” says Sopher.Lighting the HanukiahThe hanukiah “must be lit each evening after sunset, in every Jewish home,” shares Sopher. It has eight branches—one candle for each of the eight nights—and an additional ninth branch called the shamash that is distinctly placed either higher or lower than the rest, from which the eight are lit.“While some families continue using oil lamps, many feel that candles are easier,” says Daniel David, a tour guide from Mumbai. The hanukiah is kept near a window or in the balcony, so people can see it and “should burn at least for 30 minutes,” adds Myer Moses, a Bene Israeli Jew from Thane.A few paragraphs from the Torah are read and songs are sung before the candles are lit. “Everyone in the family gets a chance to light the hanukiah,” he says.As this year Hanukkah begins on Saturday, which is the Sabbath (a day of religious observance and abstinence from work kept by Jews), “the Havdalah candle that marks the end of the Sabbath will be lit first at sunset. This signifies that the Sabbath laws are no more effective and only then is the Hanukkah lamp lit,” says David.One of the few Jewish festivals that doesn’t have any restrictions, “it can be celebrated in any way; there are Hanukkah camps and parties, games for kids, and people invite friends over,” adds David.Sweet treatsWhat’s a festival without its food? For Hanukkah, “we generally make oil-based food like deep-fried donuts,” shares Chef Moshe Shek, one-time founder of Moshe’s. “Our meals would be different from our daily food, but there’s nothing specially made for the festival. We try and use oil and fat rich foods that signify the miracle of the oil,” explains Chef Moshe.As an Indianised version, David’s family makes halwa and Moses remembers his mother making pancakes, narali bhat and marzipan. While European Jews make rugelach, a cream-cheese pastry with jam or fruit filling, Chef Moshe, who has worked in Israel says, “Sufganiyot—a round donut without the hole—is traditionally eaten in Israel. It is filled with jam and there are modern takes like the sesame seed Jewish halwa, hazelnuts and praline and chocolate”. Of course, it is celebrated on a larger scale in Israel. “Bakeries prepare huge trays of donuts and huge hanukiahs are lit in parks. The whole country celebrates,” recalls Chef Moshe.
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