Hanukkah: More Than the Festival of Lights

This holiday embodies the fight for religious freedom

Many in this area and around the world celebrate Christmas, but there is another important holiday this month – Hanukkah. To learn more about this Jewish holiday, I turned to Rabbi William Rudolph, who is semi-retired, but serves the Fauquier Jewish Congregation. According to Rudolph, there are approximately 60 families serviced through the local Jewish congregation.

The history of Hanukkah.

Many to this day believe that Hanukkah is the celebration of the eight days of light – the miracle of a jar of oil that lasted that length of time. “This is not really the story,” shared Rabbi Rudolph. “Approximately 2,100 years ago (BCE) there was a great deal of turmoil between the Jews and the Syrian and Greeks who occupied and ruled the region,” noted Rabbi Rudolph. “The historical significance comes from a group of Jewish fighters, the Maccabees, who liberated Israel from the rule of Syrian Greeks and their demand that the Jews worship their idols. Jewish people wanted the freedom to worship as they wished, and eventually fought a three year war that pushed out the Syrian Greeks from this area.”

Rudolph also shared that “even though the Syrian Greeks were pushed out, Jewish leadership didn’t believe that fighting back was a good strategy so they began to emphasize a divine miracle instead – that of a small flask of oil that lasted for eight days.” Actually Hanukkah lasts eight days because it was modeled after the Feast of the Tabernacles, or Sukkot, that celebrated the end of the the harvest and lasted eight days. The oil, a prominent feature of this celebration was a later addition into the Hanukkah holiday. Rudolph added, “To put things in perspective, Hanukkah is not a major holiday, it is a minor one.”

Rabbi William Rudolph

Today, Hanukkah is recognized as the Festival of Lights, where each night an additional candle on the Menorah is lit to commemorate the number of days the one jar of oil lasted. “The first night there is one candle lit, the second night, two, up to the eighth night when all the candles are lit,” explained Rabbi Rudolph. In more recent times, North American countries such as ours have seen Hanukkah “become more important where Christmas is important.” Rabbi Rudolph explained, “In other countries, Hanukkah is a minor holiday because there is no need to compete with Christmas.”

“Thanksgiving is the day where Jews feel most like other Americans. From the time right after Thanksgiving through the Christmas season, it is a time that Jewish people often feel left out,” explained Rudolph. “Now to compensate, Hanukkah is a holiday that is celebrated in a way that makes this time period as nice as possible for Jewish children. Some kids receive a gift every night during Hanukkah; adults may give gifts, but most do not as part of the holiday.”

The holiday celebration.

Each year the holiday follows the lunar calendar which is based upon 354 days. This calendar system is what dictates when the religious celebration will occur each year. Lunar months are just 29.5 days long, and in a short time the calendar would be out of sync with the seasons, which are based on the sun. Every three years, a whole month is added in the winter, which has many implications including the date Hanukkah is celebrated each calendar year.

Although the candles themselves had no special meaning originally; it is no coincidence that lights are a prominent symbol of Christmas and Kwanzaa also. Since it is a dark time of year, the candles add light to life. Lighting the Menorah and saying prayers are the main component of each evening of Hanukkah. “There are gifts now in our festivities and there is a food element as well. In Israel, donuts are made and enjoyed. Here in the U.S. latkes are a favorite food enjoyed during the meals,” noted the Rabbi. “The significance of both the latkes and donuts are that they are both made with oil, which the more modern story of Hanukkah celebrates.”

In my quest for a better understanding of this Jewish holiday, I found so much more. Rabbi Rudolph shared a sentiment that has truly touched me. “Remove politics and haters and you will find so much in common with the Jewish religion in reference to other religions. Many religions share the common goals, and religion itself is not a negative force. Those who murder in the name of God are not practicing the religious beliefs inherent in many faiths. The miracle of the oil is a great story, and is important to the Jewish religion,” said Rabbi Rudolph. “But the true importance of this holiday is the message of religious freedom.”

2017 Services for Fauquier Jewish Congregation

  • Hanukkah service and FJC Hanukkah Party Sunday, December 10
  • Shabbat dinner service Friday December 15
  • Torah study with Rabbi Saturday, December 16

Fauquier Jewish Congregation Information


Services are held at Saint James’ Episcopal Church’s Parish Hall.

For a complete schedule of services, please visit their website.

Trivia lovers – how do you spell Hanukkah?

There are several ways people spell Hanukkah. Some even spell it Chanukah, yet if you look online, there is a website (http://joemaller.com/601/sixteen-ways-to-spell-hanukkah/) that states there are about 16 various spellings. According to Rabbi Rudolph “Chanukah is the most accurate – reflecting the guttural sound of the first Hebrew letter, but people use that and Hanukkah pretty much interchangeably.” He also commented on the spelling debate: “various alternatives frequently appear and it’s mostly a matter of transliterating a consonant that is not in the English language for the first letter. Having two ‘n’s’ is always wrong, but technically the ‘k’ sound should be doubled since it has a doubling dot in the Hebrew language.”


Debbie Eisele
About Debbie Eisele 63 Articles
Debbie Eisele is a freelance writer and the Community Outreach Coordinator for Hero’s Bridge, a nonprofit serving older veterans. She lives in Warrenton with her husband and twin daughters.

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