Images provided by HISTORY. Top: Menorah.
Over 2000 years ago, the Jews in Jerusalem and Eretz Yisroel (the Land of Israel) were under the rule of the Syrian-Green Empire. Unlike most empires of the era, the Syrian-Greek empire did not seek to kill everyone, nor even kick them out. Instead, they wanted every person under their rule to abandon their culture and practice Greek customs and beliefs. When faced against the Jews and their unity as a nation, the king of the empire had to do all he could. He enacted laws forbidding reading the Torah, circumcision, resting on Shabbat, observance of the dietary laws of Kashrus, and many more. The punishment was death. In spite of this, to make the story short, the Jews stuck to their values. A war ensued, and miraculously the Maccabees won. Once the war was over and they had made their way to the Beis Hamikdosh, the Temple, and saw it was defiled. They cleaned the temple looking for oil to light the Menorah outside of the Temple, and found only one jug of oil. It was only enough to last a day, but when they lit it, it burned without using up any of the oil. This miracle lasted for 8 days until more oil was received. Chanukah is a celebration – not commemoration – of that miracle. We light the menorah every night on Chanukah to relive the miracle. The Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schnneerson, explains that by lighting the candles of Chanukah we ask, “that just as He (G-d) performed miracles for the Jewish people ‘at that time,’ so should He perform miracles for us ‘at this time.’” Besides just the candles and the menorah, we celebrate the holiday by spending time with family, eating oily foods, and shining the light outwards to the whole world. We eat Latkes (potato pancakes), Sufganiyos (jelly-filled donuts), and Gelt (chocolate coins). We play dreidel, and sing Chanukah songs. The most iconic part of Chanukah is the Menorah, which we light every night of the holiday. Across the world, menorahs are lit for the world to see. In Fremont, the Chabad of Fremont Jewish Center held a menorah lighting in the new event center to a crowd of 400 people. In the end, we take the simcha (joy) that we get from this holiday, and we carry it forward to the rest of the year.