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LEX 18 Digital: What is Chanukah?

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Posted at 3:37 PM, Dec 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-22 14:27:26-05

Chanukah is an upcoming Jewish holiday that lasts eight days and nights.

LEX 18 spoke with the director of the Chabad at the University of Kentucky Jewish Student Center and Chabad of the Bluegrass, Rabbi Shlomo Litvin to talk about the holiday's history and local events celebrating Chanukah.

"The underlying values that we're celebrating on Chanukah is, number one, religious freedom. This was the first fight to be able to practice religion as we see fit," said Litvin. "And the second value is that the only answer to darkness, as Chanukah routinely comes out in the darkest part of winter, is to add light."

On each day of Chanukah, the participants will light the candles of a candelabrum with nine branches called a menorah.

"Menorahs are generally lit in the doorway, or by a window, and we share that light with others."

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Leaders across the world will light menorahs this Chanukah and share that light.

To light a menorah, you use a shamash candle to light the other candles. The first night of Chanukah, you will light one candle, the second night you will light two candles, and so on.

"There's blessings we make (while lighting the candles), thanking God,number one, for the Mitzvah, the connection of lighting a menorah, then we thank God for the miracles that happened to our ancestors, and we thank God for allowing us to live to celebrate more holidays and celebrate this Chanukah," said Litvin. "And each night we add in light which is the obvious lesson that when you're doing something positive, when you're doing something lightful, you should always be adding to it."

Litvin also described a game called Dreidel, which is played during the Chanukah season. The dreidel is a top with four Hebrew letters on it, נ (nun), ג (gimel), ה (hei), ש (shin), which is an abbreviation which stands for "a great miracle happened there."

You play by spinning the dreidel, and if it lands on a נ (nun), you don't do anything, if it lands on aה (hei), you get half of the pot, if it lands on a ג (gimel), you get the whole pot, and if it lands on a ש (shin), you give into the pot.

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The gambling game was used as a way to cover up the learning of the Torah and practicing of Jewish customs during the Greek occupation.

"Another wonderful tradition of Chanukah is eating everything deep fried," said Litvin. "Being as mentioned the miracle of the oil is a prime miracle of Chanukah, all the customary foods of Chanukah are fried."

Typically served during Chanukah is a potato pancake called a latke. There are also deep fried donuts filled with jelly called sufganiyot.

If you are interested in attending a menorah lighting, there are several opportunities in Lexington. There will be a public menorah lighting in Lexington at Mayor Linda Gorton's office on Dec. 22 at 5 p.m. to kick off the city's Chanukah season. There will also be a lighting at Joseph Beth Booksellers on Dec. 26 at 6 p.m., and at the Summit at Fritz Farm Dec. 29 at 6 p.m. Litvin said there will be latkes and sufganiyots.

The menorah lighting at the mayor's office will also honor local law enforcement, as well as Detective Joseph Seals who was killed in the Jersey City shootings earlier this month.

"As the Jewish community is still reeling from the attack on the kosher supermarket in Jersey City, the victims are in all of our minds and being as we’ve now learned the initial target of the attack was very likely the synagogue and school next door to the supermarket, where 50 Jewish children were learning and one of the prime factors in the gunmen making their mistake, were the actions of Detective Joseph Seals, who was murdered. We have an even greater appreciation than normal for the efforts of law enforcement to protect our community so at our initial lighting this year, which kicks off Lexington’s community Chanukah celebration at the mayor’s office, Chief Weathers is gonna light the menorah, share a few words and we’re gonna thank both the Lexington Police Department for their constant support of the Jewish community and police departments across the nation, including Detection Seals, for their sacrifice for our community.”

For more on the history of Chanukah and how it is celebrated, watch the LEX 18 Digital video above.

Thank you to LEX 18 photographer Rudy Finamore and LEX 18 editor Harry Fogle for their work on this LEX 18 Digital project.