This is the Hebrew word "Hanukkah" - a word which is annoying to transliterate into English, and even more annoying for English-speakers to pronounce. It starts with the strong guttural throat-clearing sound which has no English equivalent.
Here I am in my Israeli classroom (second from the left) posing as a candle in an all-girl hanukkiah (you may be more familiar with the American word "menorah" so I'll use that from now on). Note how seriously I took the job, the cardboard flames on each of our heads, and the plaited candles stuck in hardened cups of plaster. I really wish this was a colour photo.
I just know my parents were watching and shepping naches (you shep naches when you watch your child in a school concert, receive a prize, behave like a mensch). A mensch is a good person, a decent citizen, thoughtful, helpful, charitable, loving. I'll stop with the Yiddish now.We have a Hanukkah box which I need to take out of the attic today because the first night of Hanukkah is tomorrow. I will photograph it for your enjoyment (remember...my mother kept EVERYTHING from my childhood, and now EVERYTHING is in my attic).
No, I didn't attend an all-girl kindie class. The boys were probably patiently waiting for their turn to take centre stage as the Maccabees, marching in a line and holding round, silver cardboard shields.
Here is my attempt at summarising this festival:
It's around 174BCE and Antiochus IV comes to power over the Syrian-Greek Empire, which includes Israel. In an attempt to unite his kingdom, Antiochus supresses all Jewish activity - the scrolls of the Law are confiscated and burnt, Sabbath rest, circumcision and dietary laws (kashrut) are prohibited under penalty of death. Mattityahu, an elderly Jewish priest living in Modiin with his five sons (Yohanan, Shimon, Yehuda, Elazar and Yonatan) organises an attack against Antiochus' men and an escape to the hills of Judea. Before he dies, Mattityahu proclaims that his son Yehuda will be the leader of the revolt and thus "Judah the Maccabee" takes over. "Maccabee" is possibly derived from the first letters of a Biblical phrase "Mi kamocha baelim Hashem" - "Who is like you among the mighty, O God." Antiochus sends a huge army to attack the Jews, the Maccabees win, they return to Jerusalem and rededicate the Temple (165BCE). They need to relight the Temple menorah, but they find only one tiny jug of pure olive oil left. That tiny amount of oil lasted for 8 days - a miracle! Hence, we celebrate 8 days of Hanukkah, adding one more candle to the menorah every night.
We're lighting the first candle at my parents' home, so gather 'round people - there'll be latkes (fried potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jam-filled donuts). All welcome!!!