We at the Keys Weekly checked with City Commissioner Sam Kaufman, who is Jewish. He pointed out that the Hebrew language uses a different alphabet, so there is no literal English translation. The Hebrew word is actually pronounced with a guttural, “kh” sound at the beginning, to sound like, “kha-nu-kah,” not “tcha-new-kah,” according to the Jewish website chabad.org.
In honor of the holiday, the large menorah at Bayview Park will soon glow with light alongside the city’s towering Christmas tree. A menorah-lighting ceremony and celebration will take place at 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18 to honor the first of eight nights of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.
“We join together to remember the miracle of Hanukkah and light the Menorah. Hanukkah reminds us that we all have light within us and we can spread that light and goodness to those around us and in our community – and we can all make this world a better place,” Kaufman said. “Please join us as we light the City of Key West Menorah candles together and spread the light.”
Hanukkah is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and fried foods.
The Hebrew word Hanukkah means “dedication,” and is so named because it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in the second century BCE, when the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who tried to force the people of Israel to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and belief in God.
Against all odds, a small band of faithful but poorly armed Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on Earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God.
When they sought to light the Temple’s Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.
To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Hanukkah.
At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting. The menorah holds nine flames, one of which is the shamash (“attendant”), which is used to kindle the other eight lights. On the first night, we light just one flame. On the second night, an additional flame is lit. By the eighth night of Hanukkah, all eight lights are kindled.
Special blessings are recited, often to a traditional melody, before the menorah is lit, and traditional songs are sung afterward.
A menorah is lit in every household (or even by each individual within the household) and placed in a doorway or window. The menorah is also lit in synagogues and other public places. In recent years, thousands of jumbo menorahs have cropped up in front of city halls and legislative buildings, and in malls and parks all over the world.
As the Hanukkah miracle involved oil, it is customary to eat foods fried in oil during the holiday. The Eastern-European classic is the potato latke (pancake) garnished with applesauce or sour cream, and the reigning Israeli favorite is the jelly-filled sufganya (doughnut).
Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas from our families to yours.