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What Is The Significance Of Hanukkah & How Is It Celebrated Today?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - Jewish families across Minnesota are celebrating the second night of Hanukkah. The eight-night Festival of Lights is filled with history and folklore.

So what is the significance of Hanukkah? And how is it celebrated today?

WCCO's Jeff Wagner learned there are many layers to the holiday.

Candles bring light to darkness and for eight nights in the Jewish faith this time of year, that light carries a symbolic and proud story.

"Hanukkah means rededication," said Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, the senior Rabbi and Temple Israel.

Sometimes the spelling of Hanukkah starts with an 'H' and other times with a 'Ch', why is that? The sound at the beginning of Hanukkah is from the Hebrew letter 'chet' which doesn't translate to English, thus the different spellings.

What is the significance of celebrating Hanukkah?

"The significance of celebrating Hanukkah is this military conquest," Zimmerman said.

Thousands of years ago in Israel in 163 B.C., Jews fought to overcome oppressive Greek rule and reclaimed their religion in the second temple. There was only one jar of oil left in the temple to commemorate the victory, but by a miracle the oil burned in a menorah for eight days.

"Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai came up with what we call the Hanukkah Menorah, where we light candles every night to commemorate that (miracle)," she said. The candles represent light pushing out darkness.

These stories are told as the candles burn while also enjoying certain foods. Potato pancakes known as Latkes and jelly donuts are popular choices, specifically for how they're cooked.

"All of it's about frying things," said Zimmerman, noting that it's another way to commemorate the oil that burned for eight nights.

A popular toy made famous by its memorable song, "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel," reinforces the triumphant story that's written on its four sides. It reads "nes gadol ha'ya sham," which translates to "A great miracle happened there."

Those words are echoing across the Twin Cities this week where there's an estimated 34,500 Jewish households according to a recent study.

"For my ancestors, for the forbearers who brought me here, I have a responsibility," Zimmerman said. "And for those who come after me, I have a legacy that I am determined to pass on to generation to generation. Hanukkah is that time. It reminds us that standing out and being different is something to be proud of."

The start of Hanukkah can fall anywhere from late November to mid-December. That's because the Hebrew calendar aligns with the lunar cycle, not the Gregorian calendar that modern society follows today.

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