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Chappaqua Rabbi Explains Meaning of Hanukkah

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. – For Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman, explaining the story of Hanukkah has become second nature. Occasionally, however, the rabbi at Temple Beth El in Chappaqua needs to remind himself of what the holiday truly means.

“What it really reminds me of is actually what a lot of these holidays are about, which is bringing light in particularly dark times,” said Mitelman. “This time of the year is the darkest and shortest time of the year. So Hanukkah reminds us of a responsibility to bring light.”

The eight-day holiday is celebrated to remember when the Syrian Greeks destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem because they wanted everyone to convert to Hellenism, Mitelman explained. Judah Maccabee, a Jewish priest, led a revolution against the Greeks and won, and the temple was rededicated to the Jews.

After the war, the Israelites in the Temple lit a menorah using a small amount of oil that was used by the holy priests. The oil was expected to last for only one day, but by a miracle, it lasted for eight days, and thus, the festival of Hanukkah lasts for eight days.

Mitelman said there was once a debate about whether Hanukkah should be celebrated by lighting eight candles and counting down to one, or lighting one candle and counting up to eight.

“Every day you’re supposed to add another candle. You’re always supposed to be adding more and more and more light,” Mitelman said. “You count up from one to eight because you always want to be bringing more holiness, more joy, more light to the world.”

Mitelman said that potato pancakes and jelly donuts are popular at Hanukkah because  eating items that are fried in oil serve as reminders of the miracle of the oil.

Temple Beth El is inviting residents for a night of crafts, songs, games and dinner at its Hanukkah party on Friday at 5:30 p.m. Those wishing to attend must RSVP (rhill@bethelnw.org) and admission is $10 per person. The event will be followed by a candle lighting at 7:15 p.m.

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