‘Mai Chanukah (What is Chanukah)’? is a question the Rabbis ask in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b). It was a rhetorical question, asked not because the Rabbis did not know the answer, but because they wanted us to know the correct one. Surely, we all know that Chanukah celebrates a miracle, as it says on our dreidels: ‘nes gadol hayah sham’ (or poh): a great miracle happened there (or here depending on whether the dreidel is for Israel). The Talmud explains that when the Temple was dedicated a little flask of oil was found, with enough kosher oil to keep the menorah in the Temple burning for one day, but miraculously it kept burning for 8 days, until new oil was procured. Historical accounts of this time however, do not refer to a miracle of oil but imply that the miracle of Chanukah was the fact that the Maccabees defeated the mighty Greeks.
Most Jewish children when asked ‘what is Chanukah?” might probably mention presents, doughnuts, latkes, and dreidels before they come to tell about a chanukiah and a miracle of oil.
This year, for us, Chanukah may mean something different yet again. Chanukah means dedication, as it celebrates the rededication of the Temple after the Maccabees retook it form the Greeks. As we just dedicated the shul with a chanukat ha–bayit by affixing the mezuzot, it seems fitting that the first festival we should celebrate is Chanukah, which starts on Sunday 18th December in the evening. We will be lighting the Chanukiah every night from 5-6 pm in the shul. The first candle will be lit on Sunday. Please, bring your own chanukiah as we will light the candles together with time to sing songs, eat some latkes and sufganiyot, schmooze and perhaps play a game of dreidel or two.