A Hanukkah Primer

By LORETTA FULTON

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, begins at sundown Thursday, Dec. 10, and lasts until sundown Friday, Dec. 18. Locally, Cantor Monica O’Desky will preside over a small gathering at Temple Mizpah, 849 Chestnut St., beginning at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 16.

“It is just to sing a few songs, light the candles together, and have some latkes,” O’Desky said in an email. 

Monica J. O’Desky

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the annual celebration won’t be anything like 2019, O’Desky said, when HanUKEah was celebrated with a couple of ukeleles and a big dinner. 

Hanukkah is an eight-day festival that begins at sundown on the first day of the observance. Hanukkah is based on the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple in 165-164 B.C.E. The story tells of the miraculous oil lamp that burned for eight days when it was filled with oil sufficient for only one day. A major symbol of Hanukkah is the eight-candle menorah.

An unusal fact about Hanukkah is that it is spelled in a variety of ways. O’Desky explained that the problem comes from trying to translate from Hebrew to English. Hebrew for Hanukkah is חֲנֻכָּה. Her explanation follows:

“Now reading from right to left as you do in Hebrew, that first letter is a ‘chet.’ The sound is that guttural throat sound like you were clearing your throat or gargling! You hear it in some European languages, but not in English at all. So right away you need to make it an ‘H’ or a ‘CH’ but actually neither is correct,” O’Desky wrote.

“The third letter with a dot in it is a ‘KAF.’ If it has the dot (called a dagesh) it is a hard ‘K’ sound. Without it, it sounds just like the ‘chet!’ The dot represents a few things grammatically, but one of them is doubling of the letter as in, well, leTTer. There are no doubled letters in Hebrew. Because of that, you see the English as HanuKKah to represent that doubling, although it would make no difference in pronunciation if it were not there. Just like ‘leTer’or ‘leTTer’ sound the same!”

(Editor’s Note: Monica O’Desky is the cantor at Temple Mizpah, 849 Chestnut St. She travels to Abilene for special services, including Hanukkah, which will be observed Dec. 10-18. She submitted the following primer on what Hanukkah is and isn’t.)

By MONICA O’DESKY

What Hanukkah isn’t:
* Jewish Christmas
* About Jesus
* About presents
What Hanukkah is:
* A celebration of the first successful battle for religious freedom.
* A celebration of Israelite triumph over the tyranny of the Syrian-Hellenist Antiochus IV. He outlawed Torah study and observance, attempting to end the Jewish way of life.
* Celebration that God helped the Maccabees “deliver the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of few… the wicked into the hands of the righteous.”
* A celebration of being free to transmit our heritage and identity to our children.
Whatever and however you may celebrate, may your heart be filled with gratitude, generosity, kindness and hope in this season of light.
 Traditional Chanukah greetings:
Chanukah Samey’akh! חנוכה שמח. (“Joyous Chanukah”)
Chag Samey’akh חַג שָׂמֵחַ (“Joyous Festival”)
Chag Urim Sameach! (“Joyous Festival of Lights”)
Chag Chanukah Samey’akh חַג חֲנוּכָּה שַׂמֵחַ (“Joyous Festival of Chanukah”)

One comment

  • Thank you for the information, Loretta. The Hebrew faith is so full of historical significance and meaningful practices. For anyone who would like to see the interior of Temple Mizpah, Abilene Interfaith Council has a video/interview on its website. Marc Orner talks with Pierce LoPachin about the Jewish faith.

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