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Happy Hanukkah – the story behind the Festival of Light

Friday 26 November in Community

Local charity, Friends of Israel, is set to celebrate the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, also known as ‘Channukah’ in the Hebrew translation, this upcoming weekend. Sunday 28th November kickstarts the religious celebration which takes place over eight days and nights to commemorate the recovery of Jerusalem and the redirection of the Jewish holy temple. Celebrations include music, presents and food festivities to honour one of the one of the oldest traditions in the world.

Chair of Friends of Israel, Rosalind Dobson, and Committee member, Michael Josem, explained more about the celebration in more detail to Islandlife.

Tell us a little bit of background about Friends of Israel...

RD: We’ve been running for about seven years now and our main aims are to inform and educate people about Jewish life and customs. Part of the Jewish culture is to give to people, so we also make a conscious effort to support registered charities in the Island as well as further afield, including Israel of course.

In total we have about 130 members on Island, and more abroad, and this includes a mixture of religions - Jewish, Christian, and Secular. We love the variety and sense of community.

We also help to promote trades, sporting activities and cultural events between our two countries. This has previously involved hosting visitors from around the world – including the Vice Ambassador of the Israeli embassy in London, and another speaker who gave us a fascinating talk about the Ethiopian exodus to Israel.

Where does Hanukkah originate from?

MJ: Around 165C before Jesus Christ was born, the Jews reclaimed the second Holy Temple after a war in Jerusalem against the Greeks who had taken over. One of the important things during that period was to rededicate the Temple, which had been defiled by the Greeks, and to relight the Eternal light, which burns in all synagogues up to this day, and should never be allowed to go out. However, the Jews found only sufficient sanctified olive oil to burn the candle for one day, but it lasted eight days, which was seen to be a miracle. Every year Hanukkah commemorates the recovery of Jerusalem and the rededication of the temple.

How is Hanukkah traditionally celebrated on the Isle of Man?

RD: This year we’re hosting a celebration on Sunday 28th November at Onchan Elim Church, where we will light candles, eat, sing and dance. Traditionally, the Menorah – a bunched candlestick that holds nine candles, is lit after sundown. Candles are normally lit, starting from right to left, so on the first you have one candle lit and the second, two candles and so on – the process repeats itself until the eighth night.

During the lighting we sing traditional Hebrew songs and offer our blessings and prayers before sitting down for a meal. It’s traditional to eat a lot of things that are fried in oil such as doughnuts, potato cakes known as latkes (very tasty), and pancakes, all of which are fried in oil to commemorate the oil that was burnt when the flame blazed.

The other thing we do is give gifts and money to the children, as well as chocolate coins. At one time it used to be just money but nowadays children get a present each of the eight nights. If you were lucky, like when I was growing up, you got one present!

What makes this festival so different to other celebrations?

RD: Hanukkah includes everyone. Across the world Jewish homes and communities will be honouring the day. The celebration is very family and community orientated involving the children and keeping the traditions alive, so it’s very special that we continue this.

Why is it important to recognise this in the Manx community?

MJ: There is a whole lot of value on the Isle of Man for people to learn about the Jewish religion and culture. Both Judaism and the Isle of Man are similar in the sense that both nations are working to preserve their native language and culture. In Israel, the national language is Hebrew – a dead language from more than 2000 years ago and a lot of Jews have been ‘resuscitating’ it. It’s so important to preserve this identity.

Do you believe there is a strong connection between Judaism and the Isle of Man?

MJ: Absolutely! Both countries are small nations surrounded by much larger countries, and there’s a real sense of community and connection. Judaism's home country, Israel, has always been founded on that idea of providing a sanctuary for people, and I believe the Isle of Man provides something likewise for its people.

Do other non-religious/Jewish people often get involved with your celebrations?

RD: Of course! Our group is a mix – a lot of those involved in our charity are Christians and some secular people too come along. It's lovely to celebrate and give different people more insight into our culture and what we do.

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