Guest column: Chanukah or Hanukah? A season for joy and happiness (opinion) |

Guest column: Chanukah or Hanukah? A season for joy and happiness (opinion)

Sometimes it is spelled Chanukah, or Channukah, even Hanukah is used. I have often seen Hannukah too. I am going to go with chet nun vav chaf hey — the Hebrew spelling of Hannukah.

The word itself means dedication. The story about the holiday often called the Festival of Lights has many parts, but the most common understanding pertains to the miracle of the oil. Judah Hasmonean (often called Judah Maccabee) led his family and his troops against the Greek Assyrians.

Following their victory, the next task at hand was to rededicate the Temple as it had been plundered and ransacked. Searching through the ruins, they were only able to find one small cruse of oil, sufficient for one day the legend holds.

Yet, miraculously, this tiny amount of oil kept the sacred lamp lit for eight days — a full week of rededicating the Temple. So, the legend lives on as we retell the story of the oil, as we eat as many fried foods as possible and embrace the season as one of miracles.

Yet, there is more to this holiday than the legend of the oil. There is no accident that this Jewish Festival of Lights occurs near the Winter Solstice — the darkest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. At the darkest time of the year, this festival of lights urges us to bring light into our world.

It is a week of bringing more and more illumination into our homes each night; it is a symbolic gesture to ask for a little more light and warmth in our world. It is also time for joy. Our holidays are times for Simcha — joy.

The ancient rabbis teach us in two midrashim — rejoicing is designated by 10 different terms: joy, gladness, merriment, a ringing cry, leaping, exulting, a shrill cry, jubilation, a resounding cry, and shouting (Avot de Rabbi Natan 34 & Song of Songs Rabbah 1:4, 1).

Each of these represents a different Hebrew term teaching us that there are different degrees to our joy and happiness as well as different motivations to share such emotion. Let this time of Hannukah, this season of holiday celebrations, family and JOY, give us many reasons to be joyful and happy.

Let us strive to find a way to reach all of these 10 examples of rejoicing!

The Jewish community of South Lake Tahoe and the Carson Valley will be celebrating Hannukah throughout the festival. We encourage adults to join us for our second annual Vodka & Latkes featuring craft refreshments and designer (as well as traditional) latkes. Tickets can be purchased on the Temple Bat Yam website or

I wish all of you a joyful holiday season, and for those celebrating a Happy Hannukah: May the miracles shared with our ancestors, continually be shared with us!

Rabbi Evon Yakar serves as rabbi to both Temple Bat Yam in South Lake Tahoe and North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation in Tahoe Vista.

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