By Stephanie Helms
Las Vegas is known for its lights. In fact, if all of the neon lights on the strip were lined up in a row, they would stretch over 15,000 miles long. No wonder we can be seen from the space station. This December, Las Vegas’ Jewish population will add to the glow as they celebrate Hanukkah, the annual Festival of Lights.
On the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah’s eight day observance takes place during the month of Kislev, usually in December. Because Kislev is near to the winter solstice, Hanukkah occurs during the literal darkest days of the year. This year Hanukkah begins on Dec. 24 and ends on Jan. 1, 2017.
Perhaps the most widely celebrated of all Jewish holidays, Hanukkah commemorates two very important happenings. One is the victory of the vastly outnumbered Maccabees over the Syrian-Greek forces that tried to wipe out Judaism in the second century. The other is the miracle during which one day’s worth of oil lasted for eight days and nights during the rededication of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The word Hanukkah itself means dedication. In a larger sense, the holiday is a reminder of the persistence of hope and the promise of undimmed light during the darkest times.
A popular symbol of the holiday is the menorah, the nine-branched candelabra used to kindle the lights during Hanukkah. The branches represent one candle for each night plus the shammash, the taller center candle, which is used as a helper to light the others. Blessings are recited over the lighting of the candles, which is done from left to right. Each night, an additional candle is placed in the menorah and on the last night, all the candles are lit. Throughout Hanukkah, each menorah burns through a total of 44 candles.
Jewish people find comfort and meaning in the traditions of the holiday. Each family has its own unique traditions. Some have a menorah for each family member, others take turns lighting the candles and in some households everyone holds the shammash and lights each candle together. Many beloved traditions involve food including oil-based treats like latkes, potato pancakes eaten with applesauce or sour cream, and jelly donuts called sufganiyot.
Hanukkah is also a traditional time for tzedakah, giving to charity, which is a key component of Judaism. Through every mitzvah, or act of kindness, a little bit of the world’s darkness is dispelled.
Other customs include playing games of dreidel, a four-sided spinning top printed with the letters nun, gimel, hay and shin which are initials for the phrase Nes Gadol Hayah Sham meaning, “a great miracle happened there,” referring to Israel. Players take turns spinning to win gelt, gold and silver wrapped chocolate coins. Music also plays an integral role; songs are sung about heroes, love and kindness and small gifts are often exchanged between family and friends.
Temple Sinai will hold its annual Holiday Bazaar from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 20 where shoppers can get a quick start on their holiday shopping. There will be a wide selection of vendors showcasing gifts of all kinds along with food trucks and raffle prizes. Admission is free and this event is open to the pubic.
The Jewish Family Service Agency will sponsor its seventh annual Light of Life community menorah lighting in the Magical Forest at Opportunity Village followed by special musical performances by local Jewish adult and children’s choirs on Dec. 24.
May the warmth of joy and the glow of happiness bless everyone with peace and prosperity, reminding everyone of the persistent miracle of light through the ages and the warmth of family and friendship that surrounds everyone this holiday season.