Editor's Note: This is one of the first articles to appear in Pikesville Patch when we were a new publication in 2010. Enjoy!
Most residents of Pikesville will settle in at home this evening to celebrate Hannukah, the eight-day Festival of Lights.
The holiday reminds Jews of miracles, the power of perseverance, and that they are to be lights in the world themselves.
David Weisshaar of Pikesville explained that, as Jews light each candle of the menorah—one a day—they are to reflect on Jewish history. "As you add in the lights, you are bringing light into the world," he said. "And as a Jewish person you are supposed to bring light into the world.
It has another meaning, too. "We are supposed to look at the light and reflect, think about the miracles of God during that time," he said, referring to happenings 21 centuries ago.
Rabbi Jonathan Seidemann of Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Pikesville recalled the history for Patch, and said he believes that the story of Hanukkah has a powerful message in modern times. "It reminds one to never give up," he said.
There was a time, more than 21 centuries ago, that the Syrian-Greeks ruled over the land of modern-day Israel, said Seidemann, the college's director of communications, and rabbi of congregation Kehilath B'nai Torah in the Greenspring area.
The Syrian-Greeks sought to assimilate the Jewish population into the Syrian-Greek way of life. "The ruling authority made many attempts to deprive Jews of freedom of worship and to deprive them of observance of the laws of the torah," he said, referring to the whole body of Jewish religious literature.
In 168 B.C.E (before the Common Era) the Syrian-Greek army seized and defiled the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. One year later the Syrian-Greek emperor outlawed Judaism, and anyone caught practicing it would be put to death, Seidemann said.
A Jewish resistance, known as the Maccabees, was formed to fight back and gain religious freedom. Against all odds, the Maccabees defeated the much larger Syrian-Greek army. "When they returned to the Temple to clean things up, they were only able to find one jar of uncontaminated oil to light the menorah, the candelabra of the Temple," said Seidemann.
It was thought that the oil would only last for one day. In order to purify the Temple, though, the Jews needed the oil to burn for eight days. They lit the menorah anyway. "Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days," Seidemann said.
"The Jews could have given up and abandoned their religion to follow the way of the Syrian-Greeks. On paper, there is no way their small army should have won [in battle] against the mighty Syrian-Greeks, but they did just that. They could have given up as well when it came time to re-dedicate the Temple because they had so little oil."
So, Hanukkah is celebrated every year with the lighting of the menorah for eight nights to recognize and remember both the miracle of the military victory and the miracle of menorah candles burning for eight days, he explained.
One candle is lit each night until the entire set of candles is ablaze on the eighth night. Because the lighting of the candles done with the "shamus" candle, also on the menorah, a menorah actually has nine candleholders.
Menorahs can be either plain or be works of art or sculptures themselves.
Weisshaar said he prefers to use a menorah with oil lamps that are more like the lamps in the Temple so long ago. He said he gets a new one every year.