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General Hanukkah Summary    

Date:  Begins on the 25th of Kislev.  (In 2020 this is the night of December 10th, 2020)

Duration:  Eight days.  (This year, the 8th night is December 17, 2020) We celebrate Hannukah through sundown December 18th, 2020!

Names:  Hanukkah (Dedication), Chag HaUrim (Festival of Lights).

Source:  "They purified the Temple, removed the stones which defiled it...they took unhewn stones, as the Torah commands, and built a new altar on the model of the old one.  They rebuilt the sanctuary and restored its interior and courts.  They made new holy vessels, and brought the menorah, the altar of incense, and the table into the Temple.  Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the menorah, and these gave light to the Temple... Early in the morning on the 25th day of the ninth month, which is the month of Kislev, in the 184th year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the Torah directs, on the new alter...they had built...Then Judah, his brothers, and the whole congregation of Israel decreed that the rededication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness at the same time each year" (1 Maccabees 4:39-59)

General Theme:  Hanukkah marks the first time in recorded history that a war was launched for freedom of religion.  About 2,100 years ago, Antiochus, the Syrian tyrant, set out to destroy the Jewish religion and replace it with Greek idol worship. He suffered a stunning defeat by the Maccabees, who not only defeated the enemy but also recaptured the Jerusalem Temple and rededicated it.  Through a miracle, the little cruse of pure oil that had been found burned for eight days.  That is why the Jewish people light candles on each of the eight days of the festival.  The special Hanukkah candleholder is called a Hanukkiyah, or Hanukkah Menorah.  On Hanukkah many Jews have become involved in seeking freedom and opportunities for all people.

Traditional Foods:  Foods fried in oil, especially potato pancakes (Latkes or levivot in Hebrew).  In Israel the custom is to serve jelly doughnuts as well (sufganiot).

Customs:  Each night of Hanukkah the Hanukkiyah is lit and the appropriate blessings are recited.  The song "Maoz Tzur" is often chanted upon the completion of lighting the Hanukkiyah.  In some synagogues the Hanukkiyah is also lit during the weekday morning service, but the blessings are not recited.  Also, during the morning service each day the Torah is read.  The reading tells of the identical gifts that were brought by the princes of the tribes of Israel at the dedication of the altar.  As well, the Hallel psalms of praise are chanted in the synagogue during the morning services, and an additional prayer thanking God for the miraculous deliverance of our ancestors in other days as well as in our time.

Hanukkah games are played throughout the festival.  The most popular one is spinning a Dreidel, which is a spinning top with four sides.  One each side is found one of the following letters: nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה), or shin (שׁ).  These letters stand for the words "Nes gadol hayah sham" (A great miracle occurred there).  There have been several “spins” on the dreidel game.  Traditionally, if the dreidel falls on the nun, the player gets nothing; if it falls on the gimel, the player takes the whole pot; if it falls on the heh, the player takes half; if it falls on the shin, the player must add to the pot.

Many families also exchanging gifts, including Hanukkah gelt (money).  Some set aside a night or more dedicated to Tzedakah – righteous charitable giving – where instead of giving each other gifts, the family would give to those less fortunate.  Some people affix a new Mezuzah to a doorpost in the home that has yet to receive one.  Since the word Hanukkah itself means dedication, affixing a Mezuzah is the spiritual way to dedicate a room.

A Guide For Lighting The Hanukkah Menorah

Probably the most recognizable of the Hanukkah rituals is lighting the Hanukkiyah, or Hanukkah menorah.  On the first night of Hanukkah we light one candle and each subsequent night we add one more.  Candles are added to the menorah from right to left, but are kindled from left to right. The newest candle is lit first.  Each night there is also one candle, called the shamash (helper) that we light first with a match or lighter and then use to light the rest of the candles.  

First, light the shamash. It is the highest flame on the HanukkiyahThen say these brakhot:

Hannkkah provides the Jewish family with a unique opportunity to spend eight consecutive evenings together at home.  It is considered a mitzvah both to light the candles, and to share their glow with others.   Some families use the time just before lighting the hannukiyah to dedicate the evening to a larger ideal.  It’s a good way to maximize on the time! Below is an example of ways to dedicate each night.   You might want to try using these, or coming up with eight ideas of your own:hannukiyahHannkkah provides the Jewish family with a unique opportunity to spend eight consecutive evenings together at home.  It is considered a mitzvah both to light the candles, and to share their glow with others.   

Additional Thoughts/Modern Dedications (by Rabbi Harvey J. Fields):

First Candle – Freedom

We kindle this first Hanukkah light in memory of the dedication and courage of the Maccabees. Believing that they should be free to worship God as their hearts and minds dictated, they willingly gave their lives for freedom. Now, kindling this candle, we rededicate ourselves to work for the equal rights of all people, and for the realization of a society of democracy and freedom. 

Second Candle – Family

Tonight, as we celebrate Hanukkah together, we are conscious of our precious gift of family. So often we take one another for granted, forgetting to express our love and devotion. Let us, now, as we kindle these festive lights, rededicate ourselves to sharing our interests and time with one another. Like the Maccabees of old, let us face the tribulations and the joys of life united by our family bonds. Kindling these lights, we pray that through kindness and thoughtfulness our love for one another will increase from strength to strength.

Third Candle -- Study of Torah

On this third night of Hanukkah, we rededicate ourselves to the study of our tradition. As the Maccabees courageously fought to preserve our faith, we too are duty-bound to sustain our heritage by deepening our understanding of it through study. By increasing our knowledge of Judaism, we become more sensitive to its abiding values, more aware of our responsibility to realize these values in our society. Study opens our minds and fortifies us against tyranny. Learning secures our freedom. Let us, then, as we kindle these lights, rededicate ourselves to the study of our tradition.

Fourth Candle - Hope

Our sages have taught us that in hope a person's future is illuminated and made creative. Ours are times when many people live in fear and great despair. Like the Maccabees, we need to build our lives on hope. Hope that ultimately truth will triumph over falsehood, and confidence that knowledge and understanding will finally depose superstition and tyranny. Now, as we kindle these Hanukkah lights, may our lives be strengthened by the highest hopes and visions of our faith. 

Fifth Candle – Tzedakah (Righteous Giving)

Our tradition tells us that during the Maccabean war for freedom, all Jews – children and adults –  contributed charity toward the cause of defeating the oppressor. There are many forms of oppression that still challenge us today. There are people afflicted by sickness, hunger, ignorance, and prejudice. Tonight, we put aside gifts of charity in order that we too may help to bring an end to oppression. We pray that the gifts we offer will provide food for the hungry, medicine for the sick, knowledge for the ignorant and equal opportunity for those afflicted by prejudice. Now as we kindle or Hanukkah lights, let us rededicate ourselves to the ideal of tzedakah, of righteous giving, found in our Jewish tradition.

Sixth Candle – Shalom (Peace)

The lights of Hanukkah remind us of our chosen mission as Jews. Like the Maccabees, we seek to rededicate ourselves to the service of God. Today one of our foremost tasks is to secure peace in our troubled world. When we end disagreements through mutual understanding, when we seek to mend hurt and wounded feelings, we are doing our part in making peace a living ideal. Let us, as we kindle our Hanukkah lights, rededicate ourselves with renewed strength to the task of securing peace. 

Seventh Candle – Human Friendship 

Friendship is founded upon a total respect for the liberty and freedom of all people. The Maccabees sought to protect themselves when their rights were violated. Our Hanukkah lights serve as a reminder that human friendship is secure only when we honor the precious liberty and property of others. As we kindle these lights, let us rededicate ourselves to the cause of friendship that alone can bring dignity to all people.

Eighth Night – Faith

Tonight, we kindle all the lights of our Hanukkah menorah. Throughout the centuries, the Hanukiyah has been our symbol of faith. Like the Maccabees, when they celebrated this festive holiday, we rededicate ourselves to the living of a more meaningful Jewish life. We pray that throughout this coming year we may fulfill the ideals of freedom, family, study, hope, charity, peace, and friendship, all of which are symbolized by the lights of our Hanukiyah. 

Hanukkah Vocabulary

Dreidel: Also called Sevivon in Hebrew, is a four-sided top with a different Hebrew letter on each side. The Hebrew word sevivon is derived from the Hebrew root meaning "to turn." In Yiddish, such a top is called a dreidel, which is derived from the German drehen, to turn. The letters on the side of the dreidel represent Hebrew words meaning "A Great Miracle Happened There" or, in Israel, "A Great Miracle Happened Here." Each of the letters also corresponds to a Yiddish word linked to the dreidel game: Nun for "nichts," meaning to take nothing and put nothing; Gimmel for "ganz," meaning to take everything; Hay for "halb," meaning to take half of the pot; and Shin for "shtellen," meaning to put into the pot. There are many variations of the dreidel game.

Gelt: A Yiddish term meaning "Hanukkah money." It is customary to give children foil-covered chocolates or some small trinket on each night of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah: "Dedication." This holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BCE by the Hasmoneans/Maccabees three years after it had been desecrated by Antiochus IV.

Hanukkiyah: A special menorah, or candelabra with nine branches, one for each day along with one shamash, or servant-candle. It is used only on Hanukkah.

Judah Maccabee: One of the five sons of Mattathias who, along with his brothers Jonathan, Simon, John, and Eleazar, led the revolt against Antiochus IV. The third but best known of the brothers, he was the leader of the uprising and then remained at the helm until his death in 160 BCE, five years after the rededication of the Temple.

Kislev: The ninth month of the Jewish religious year, it can have 29 or 30 days. The festival of Hanukkah begins on the 25th of Kislev.

Latkes: The Yiddish word for potato pancakes. The Hebrew equivalent is levivot. Originally cheese dishes were eaten on Hanukkah to commemorate the actions of Judith. From the custom of eating cheese dishes grew the custom of eating pancakes of all kinds. Latkes are also eaten because they are fried in oil symbolizing the miracle of the oil which burned for eight days when the Temple was rededicated.

Maccabee: A name given to Judah, first leader of the Hasmoneans, and later applied to the entire Hasmonean dynasty. This Hebrew word is usually translated as "hammer," but can also be understood as an acronym of the first letters of Mi Kamocha Ba-Elim Adonai," meaning "Who is like you, Adonai?" It may have served as a rallying cry for the Jews in their battle against Antiochus IV.

Nes Gadol Hayah Sham: Means "A Great Miracle Happened There." Each letter in the sides of the dreidel refers to one of the four words in this sentence. The miracle is, of course, the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian (Seleucid) Greeks and the rededication of the Temple in 165 BCE.

Shamash: "Servant." This refers to the ninth-or servant-candle of the hannukiah which is used to light all of the other Hanukkah candles each night.

She'Asah Nissim: "Who Made Miracles." The second prayer recited when lighting Hanukkah candles is said on all eight nights and speaks of the miracles wrought by God for our ancestors in ancient times.

Shehecheyanu: "The One Who Has Kept Us Alive." This blessing, recited at most new beginnings, is said on the first night of Hanukkah.

Sufganiyot: An Israeli jelly-filled doughnut. It is eaten on Hanukkah because, like the latke, it is fried in oil, which is symbolic of the miracle of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah Songs/Old and New



Hanukkah – Chag Yafeh

Hanukkah, Hanukkah chag yafeh kol kach

Or chaviv misaviv gil l'yeled rach

Hanukkah, Hanukkah s'vivon sov sov

Sov, sov, sov, sov, sov, sov, Mah na-im va-tov.


I have a little Dreidle

I have a little dreidle, I made it out of clay

And when it’s dry and ready then dreidle I will play

Oh dreidle, dreidle, dreidle, I made it out of clay

And when it’s dry and ready then dreidle I will play

It has a lovely body, with legs so short and thin

A happy game of dreidle, come play now lets begin

Oh dreidle dreidle dreidle with legs so short and thin

Oh dreidle dreidle dreidle come play now lets begin


S’vivon Sov Sov Sov

S'vivon, sov, sov, sov Hanukkah, hu chag tov

Hanukkah, hu chag tov s'vivon, sov, sov, sov

Chag simcha hu la-am nes gadol haya sham

Nes gadol haya sham chag simcha hu la-am


Al HaNisim

Al Ha’Nisim, Vi’ Al HaPuran, Vi’Al Hagivurot,

Vi Al Ha’Tishvut, Vi Al Ha’Milchamot She’Asita La’voteinu Bayamim Ha’Hem Ba’zman Ha’Zeh.


Oh Hanukkah

Hanukkah O' Hanukkah, come light the menorah.  Let's have a party, we'll all dance the Hora,

Gather 'round the table, I'll give you a treat,

S'vivon to play with and latkes to eat

And while we are playing, the candles are burning bright,

One for each night, they shed their sweet light,

To remind us of days long ago.

One for each night, they shed their sweet light,

To remind us of days long ago.


Maoz Tzur – Rock of Ages

Maoz tzur y’shuati l’cha naeh l’shabeach

Tikon beit t’filati v’sham todah n’zabeach.

L’eit tachin matbeach mitzar hamnabeach

Az egmor b’shir mizmor chanukat hamizbeach. (2x)

Rock of ages, let our song, praise Your saving power;

Thou amidst the raging foes, were our sheltering tower.

Furious they assailed us, but Your arm availed us.

And Your word broke their sword  )

When our own strength failed us.  )2x


Rules for How to Play Dreidel

The Hebrew word for dreidel is sevivon, which, as in Yiddish, means to turn around. Dreidels have four [Hebrew] letters on them, and they stand for the saying, “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” meaning, “a great miracle occurred there.” In Israel, instead of the fourth letter "shin," there is a "peh," which means the saying is “Nes Gadol Haya Po”--“a great miracle occurred here.”

Playing with the dreidel is a traditional Hanukkah game played in Jewish homes all over the world, and rules may vary. Here's how to play the basic dreidel game:

  1. Any number of people can take part in this great game.
  2. Each player begins the game with an equal number of game pieces (about 10-15) such as pennies, nuts, chocolate chips, raisins, matchsticks, etc.
  3. At the beginning of each round, every participant puts one game piece into the center "pot." In addition, every time the pot is empty or has only one game piece left, every player should put one in the pot.
  4. Every time it's your turn, spin the dreidel once. Depending on the outcome, you give or get game pieces from the pot:

 Nun נ  – means "nisht" or "nothing" [in Yiddish]. The player does nothing.

Gimmel ג  – means "gantz" or "everything" [in Yiddish].  The player gets everything in the pot.

Hey  ה -  means "halb" or "half" [in Yiddish]. The player gets half of the pot. (If there are an odd number of pieces in the pot, the player takes half of the total plus one).

Shin   ש (outside of Israel) means "shtel" or "put in" [in Yiddish].  Peh פ (the letter used in Israel)  means "pay." The player adds a game piece to the pot.

  1. If you find that you have no game pieces left, you are either "out" or may ask a fellow player for a "loan."   When one player takes all, the game is over!  We suggest donating some of the winnings to Tzedakah.


  1. Any number of people can take part in this great game. You will need a pad of paper and a pencil to keep score


  1. Select a score keeper, who will have a numeric reference sheet to help.
  2. List all of the players, and leave room to record their scores.  Players spin in turn. Depending on the outcome, score keeper notes numeric equivalent of Hebrew letter on dreidel:
    1. Nun נ = 40, player scores 40 points
    2. Gimmel ג = 3 – player scores 3 points
    3. Hey ה =  5 – player scores 5 points
    4. Shin ש= 300 – player scores 300 points –  OR if using an Israeli dreidle, landing on Peh פ (the letter used in Israel)  = 90 – player scores 90 points!   


You can play as long as you wish

At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins!

Related image

The four sides of the dreidel used in  Israel: 

from right: nun, gimmel, hey, and pay

Hanukkah Recipes

For hundreds of years, cooks have looked at the miracle of the Hanukkah oil lasting for eight days and have realized that it is impossible to celebrate these events without including foods that use oil.  And so it is that the two most popular Hanukkah foods are fried Potato Pancakes (Latkes) and fried Jelly Donuts (sufganiot).


Yield: 4 servings

2-1/2 pound Idaho or Russet potatoes (don't bother to peel)

1 large onion, quartered                                              2 eggs

1/4 cup matzo meal                                                     1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper                  Oil, for frying

Applesauce (homemade is best)

  1. If you are not peeling the potatoes, it is important to scrub them well with a veggie brush or a scotch brite pad.
  2. Place the onions and the eggs in a food processor. Zap the mixture a few times until the onion is diced into crunchy bits, or gone (Papa prefers it that GONE way). Pour the contents of the food processor into a large bowl for mixing. Cut the potatoes lengthwise to fit in the food processor feed tube. I use the medium-grating blade and shred the potatoes. (Of course you can always use the old-fashioned elbow grease method that draws blood, OY). When the potatoes are shredded, put them in a colander over the sink and squeeze. Let the mixture drip for a few minutes. Pour the contents of the colander into the bowl with the onion and egg mixture.  Add the matzo meal, salt and pepper.
  3. In a large cast-iron skillet, pour in 1/4" of the oil. Over high heat get the oil VERY HOT.  Using a ¼ cup measure or a long-handled serving spoon, start spooning the batter into the skillet. Flatten each with a metal spatula to a diameter of 3" to 4".
  4. Cook the latkes until golden brown on one side. Then turn over and fry them some more.  When crispy on the outside and most inside, about 5 minutes per side, remove and place on several paper towels or clean paper supermarket bags. Keep doing this until you run out of batter.
  5. Serve the latkes immediately with applesauce or sour cream.



2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast                                 1/4 cup white sugar

3/4 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)     2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 egg yolks                                                                 1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg                                         2 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 cup drained cottage cheese                                  1 egg

2 tablespoons white sugar                                          1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups vegetable oil                                                    1/2 cup confectioners' sugar



  1. Dissolve the yeast and 2 tablespoons white sugar in the warm milk.
  2. Sift flour into a large bowl, make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, egg yolks, salt, nutmeg, butter and remaining sugar. Stir flour into center. Once combined turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface knead until dough is elastic. Cover and let dough rise overnight in the refrigerator.
  3. Remove dough from the refrigerator and roll on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 2 inch rounds. Cover and let rise for about 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. In a medium bowl combine the cottage cheese, egg, 3 tablespoons white sugar and vanilla. Beat until well combined.
  5. Form dough rounds into a ball and insert about 2 teaspoons of cheese filling into half of the rounds and 2 teaspoons of preserves into the other half.
  6. In a heavy pot, pour in oil to about the 2 1/2 inch mark. Heat to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Drop sufganiot (doughnuts) into the oil, turning when browned. Drain on paper towels and roll in confectioners' sugar.



4 apples                                                                       ½ teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons sugar                                                    1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder                                         ¼ teaspoon salt

2 eggs, separated                                                        3 tablespoons oil

6 ounces beer                                                              oil for frying

Confectioner’s sugar

  1. Peel and core apples.  Cut into ¼ inch rings.  Leave stacked to prevent discoloration.
  2. Combine cinnamon and sugar and dip apple rings.  Coat well.
  3. Sift flour, baking mixture. Slowly pour in beer, mixing batter well, until it becomes like snow.  Add the whipped egg whites and mix well.
  4. Dip apple rings into batter and fry in a small amount of hot oil.  When done, sprinkle lightly with confectioner’s sugar. 


For Further Reading

Suggested Reading For Children:

  • All About Hanukkah, written by Judyth Groner and Madeline Wikler, illustrated by Kinny Kreiswirth. Rockville, Maryland: Kar-Ben Copies, Inc., 1998.
  • A Turn for Noah: A Hanukkah Story, written by Susan Remick Topek, illustrated by Sally Springer. Rockville, Maryland: Kar-Ben Copies, Inc., 1992.
  • Let's Make Latkes, written by Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler, illustrated Sally Springer. Board Book published by Kar-Ben Copies, Inc. (Rockville, Maryland), 1991.
  • Sammy Spider's First Hanukkah, written by Sylvia A. Rouss, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn. Rockville, MD: Kar-Ben Copies, Inc., 1993.
  • The Story Of Hanukkah, written by Amy Ehrlich, illustrated by Ori Sherman.  New York: Puffin Pied Piper Books, 1989.
  • The Hanukkah Guest, written by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Giora Carmi.  New York: Holiday House, 1988.


Suggested Reading For Parents:

  • Strassfeld, Michael. "Hanukkah: Increasing the Light." In The Jewish Holidays: A Guide & Commentary." New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1985, pp. 161-177.
  • Waskow, Arthur. "Dark of the Sun, Dark of the Moon-Hanukkah." In Seasons of Our Joy: A Celebration of Modern Jewish Renewal. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1982, pp. 87-103.
  • A Different Light, published by the Shalom Hartmal Institute, October 2000.
  • The Christmas Menorahs: How A Town Fought Hate, written by Janice Cohn published by Albert Whitman & Company and video "Not In This Town" which also tells the story of what happened in Billings, Montana in 1993.
  • A Different Light: The Hanukkah Book of Celebration and A Different Light: The Big Book of Hanukkah, Noam Zion & Barbara Spectre, published by Devora Publishing, 1-800-232-2931, October 2000.
Wed, November 30 2022 6 Kislev 5783