Leona Uchitelle

Leona Uchitelle

Fry, fry, fry.

I came upon these words while researching Hanukkah, which this year is celebrated Dec. 2 until nightfall Dec. 10.

What is Hanukkah? There are three components.

First, it is the story of the miraculous victory of a small band of Jews who prevailed over the Greek Syrian Army.

Second, it was the miracle of a flask of consecrated olive oil that should have lasted one day but lasted eight days.

And third, it is a victorious holiday that celebrates the endurance of the Jewish people. The word “Hanukkah” means “dedication.”

Jews use a lunar calendar to determine our holidays, so Hanukkah, like all of our holidays, is seldom celebrated on the same day every year. Confusing, but we are used to this.

Hanukkah is not a religious holiday, but it is considered a wintertime festival of lights. Every night — our holidays and celebrations always start at sundown — we light our menorah, an eight-branched candelabra. There is an additional space for the “shamas” candle, the candle that does the work of lighting the other candles.

Lighting the candles is a reminder that in the second century BCE (before the Christian Era), Jews were being forced to accept Greek culture and beliefs.

A small band of faithful Jews, led by Judah Maccabee, defeated the mightiest of armies and reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. When Judah went to rekindle the Temple’s eternal light, consecrated olive oil that should have lasted one day lasted a miraculous eight days.

Today, we light the candles while saying a blessing — one candle the first night, two candles the second night, until all eight candles are lit.

Because Hanukkah involves the miracle of oil, we traditionally serve foods that have been fried in oil. The most favorite is the potato latke. This is a fried potato pancake, the crisper the better, served with sour cream and applesauce. We fry, fry, fry.

If you are in Israel at this holiday, you would find stalls in the market filled with sufganiyot, a fried doughnut that is so good you can just inhale them.

Here in the Diaspora, we go to the grocery store and buy jelly-filled doughnuts, a pretty good substitute.

Children at Hanukkah play a game with a dreidel, a four-sided top that has Hebrew letters that stand for “a great miracle happened there.” If you were in Israel it would say, “a great miracle happened here.”

The players spin the top. Whatever letter it lands on has a monetary value and you either win or lose some gelt — money.

It is traditional to give gifts of Hanukkah gelt to the children. This is why you see a supply of gold-foil-covered chocolate candy at checkout counters.

From the research that I have done, mostly from the Chabad site, you get the message that we should not be afraid to take a stand for what is right. Judah Maccabee did for all of us.

Lighting one candle is good, but lighting eight candles is even better. A little light goes a long way.

No matter how dark it is outside, that candle of strength and goodness can transform darkness into light.

I like this message.

Happy Hanukkah, everyone.

Leona Uchitelle is active in the Jewish Congregation of Venice.

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