What you might not know about Chanukah | VailDaily.com

What you might not know about Chanukah

Ian Cropp

VAIL – Chanukah. Chanukkah. Hanukkah. Spelling all three versions can get you a few points on the “Festival of Lights” IQ test. Pinpointing the origins of the holiday may earn you a Rabbiesque Chanukah IQ score.”Most people don’t realize that Chanukah is close to the 4th of July than Christmas,” said B’Nai Vail Rabbi Jack Gabriel. “Not in terms of weather, but in terms of emotion.”Chanukah commemorates the Maccabee’s victory in 165 B.C.E over the Hellenist Syrians. The victory of the smaller Jewish army, led by Judah Maccabee, is considered the original and more widely accepted miracle of Chanukah.For those who aren’t as keen on history, Gabriel has an alternate explanation.”It’s a bit like Star Wars,” Gabriel said. “There was a big evil empire (the Greeks), and a small group of people who wanted to be left alone (the Jews). The big empire wanted to intrude.”The eight days of Chanukah comes from the miracle in which a day’s worth of oil burned for eight days. Gabriel thinks this miracle may be more of a tale, but says the holiday is about celebrating miracles.”Whether or not story is true, Chanukah is still about the miraculous,” Gabriel said. In addition to the religious importance, there is some historical significance to the Maccabee’s military victory.”Judah Maccabee invented guerilla warfare,” Gabriel said. “He and a couple of farmboys fought a few thousand mercenaries. Judah and his soldiers went through narrow canyons and his soldiers shot arrows at the Greeks, and then would disappear. Eventually the Greeks said it was enough.”One of the grievances the Jews had that drove them to opposing the Greek rule was what they considered unjustified taxation.”It was like the British taxing the colonies,” Gabriel said. “(The Greeks) kept taking money away from us, and eventually we said, ‘That’s it.'”The taxation is commemorated by gelt, a piece of chocolate wrapped in gold foil to look like coins.And while gelt is often used when playing a game called dreidel, the two were not originally paired together.Spinners”You look at the dreidel and think it’s a childish thing,” Gabriel said. “But it has an interesting origin. When Israel was invaded, the invaders had rules about no congregating. So the Jews would get together and plan to overthrow the government, and when the soldiers would tell them to break it up, the Jews would say, ‘We are just gambling, don’t mind us.'”Over the years, the dreidel, a four-sided top, developed into a gambling game in which each person playing is given coins or candy. Depending on which of the four sides the dreidel landed on, the person spinning the top would either receive nothing, the entire pot, half the pot, or would have to forfeit some of their coins or candy.And like any Jewish holiday, Chanukah has special food. Latkes, which are potato pancakes fried in vegetable oil, are the most popular American culinary creation of Chanukah.”Latkes are connected to the holiday because they are fried in oil,” Gabriel said. “They eat donuts in Israel and baklava in the other parts of the Middle East. Really oily food is the food of the holiday. So if anyone wants to eat a chicken-fried steak, that’s okay.”But what would food be without good company?”For me, Chanukah is an opportunity to see different friends every night of the week,” Gabriel said. “It’s a time for us to chase away the darkness by hanging out.”Gabriel said he likes to entertain his friends with some of his own Chanukah song creations.Anyone looking to learn more about Chanukah, hear some good songs or light the Valley’s biggest menorah can join Rabbi Gabriel tonight at 5:30 p.m. in the Vail Village next to the big menorah.Staff Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14631, or icropp@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado

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