Tonight, eight candles will glow on the menorahs of Jews celebrating the final night of Chanukah (Hanukkah.) The celebration began at sundown on Thursday, December 7, and ends at nightfall tomorrow, December 15. Across the world, Jews commemorate the Festival of Lights with festivals and family gatherings, including here in Wyoming.

It has not been an easy year for the U.S. Jewish community. In October of this year, CNN reported a rising wave of anti-semitism in the country in the wake of vitriol and threats pervaded Cornell University in New York. FBI Director Christopher Ray told Congress that same week that, though the Jewish population "represents only about 2.4% of the American public, they account for something like 60% of all religious-based hate crimes." The conflagration of anti-semitism in the U.S. drew comment from politicians across the country, including President Joe Biden, who decried the wave of anti-semitism growing in the wake of the Hammas-Israel conflict. “We reject all forms of hate, whether against Muslims, Jews, or anyone. That’s what great nations do, and we are a great nation,” Biden said on October 20, 2023.

Despite these shocking statistics and against the anti-Semitic wave, members of the SE Wyoming Jewish community celebrate this year with hope in their hearts and prayers quick at hand.

"It’s a fraught time for the Jewish people, with war in Israel, and with American Jews facing a major rise in antisemitism. While in the past, prior to Oct. 7, many Jews’ response to frightening developments of antisemitism may have been to hide their Jewishness, the post-Oct. 7 Jewish communal response has bucked all precedents. Jews are choosing instead to celebrate their identity this Chanukah with more confidence and resolve." said Rabbi Yaakov Raskin, Chabad of Laramie, in a recent press release.

Celebrations of Chanukah (or Hanukkah) have grown in Wyoming this year. At Laramie's 1st Street Plaza, members of Chabad of Laramie and the Laramie Jewish Community Center organized the lighting of a 6-foot-tall menorah this past Monday.

"The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, launched the Chanukah awareness campaign 50 years ago, in 1973—in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War in Israel—and in the half-century since, the “Festival of Lights” has revitalized widespread observance of Chanukah and brought it to the mainstream. The Menorah, and indeed Chanukah—with its universal message of freedom of the human spirit, freedom from tyranny and oppression, and of the ultimate victory of good over evil—has as a result become a part of American culture." said the press release.

Awareness of Chanukah has grown in Wyoming, highlighted all the more during this year's celebrations. Governor Mark Gordon welcomed members of the Jewish community to the capital building earlier this week to commemorate the fifth day of Hanukkah, during which time Governor Gordon reminded all in attendance of Wyoming's 'Equality State' sobriquet, "It’s also wonderful to have so many of our great senators here and representatives. I think it shows that Wyoming is living up to its constitutional challenge — that we care about the people, that we have no place for hate here in Wyoming."

Celebrating Light, Hope, and Diversity This Chanukah

"At this time of year, when the sun is most hidden, the holiday of Chanukah celebrates the rays of hope and light. Often, it is through simple and unrecognized miracles that we are able to feel the warmth of hope and light."
—Rafael Goldstein

Rabbi Raskin and the Jewish population celebrate a cultural and religious holiday as integral to Jewish culture as Christmas is to Christian denominations. It is one of many significant celebrations taking place around the Winter Solstice. Hannukah, like Christmas or Kwanzaa, enriches America's ethnic culture, which is so deeply represented in our nation's history and people. Such a celebration of diversity is a part of today's Hanukkah celebrations.

“The Rebbe taught that not only is celebrating Chanukah a vital part of Jewish life–where it has become a potent point of light and Jewish pride and confidence for American Jews in the fight against darkness and antisemitism–but also represents key American values, namely those of liberty and independence,” said Rabbi Raskin. “The holiday of Chanukah underscores the fact that American culture has been enriched by the thriving ethnic cultures which contributed very much, each in its own way, to communal life, both materially and spiritually.”

Candles & Oil: Discover the Traditions of Chanuka (Hanukkah)

“We light candles in testament that faith makes miracles possible.”
—Nachum Braverman

Most individuals of the general public could tell you that Chanukah involves candles - but few outside the Jewish community could say what they represent. Fewer still may know that donuts are a traditional treat of the celebration or that Hanukkah uses a special menorah with its own name. Discover some unique facets of the Chanukah celebration, as explained by Rabbi Yaskin.

Is It Hanukah or Chanukah?

"The Hebrew word is חנוכה. How that gets transliterated varies. Both are correct. I think Hanukkah may be a more common spelling generally, with Chanukah being a more "Jewish" spelling. The ch sound for Hebrew is a guttural sound, a little like clearing your throat. Same with Challah, Chaim etc."

Here's how to pronounce it:

What does each candle on the menorah symbolize?

Lighting the menorah is a sacred act transcending over a thousand years of history. The Chanukah menorah bears a special name, the Hanukkiyah.

"The Chanukah holiday is eight days long. In the Holy Temple, they would light a seven-light Menorah-candelabrum every day. We commemorate the miracle of the Menorah with our own menorahs, but slightly modified. Instead of lighting the same amount of candles each night, instead we start with one light on the first night, two on the second, etc. The symbolism of that is that in a time of darkness [litterally, as the Menorah is lit at night during winter with its long nights, as well as metaphorically in a world of darkness, evil, and corruption] the Jewish response to shine a light, and to be a light unto others. And when doing so, you may not become complacent, doing the same things day after day. When life is dark, keep adding light - every day, do more acts of goodness and kindness than ever before."

Why Do Chanukah/Hanukkah Dates Vary?

Chanukah dates are not based on the Roman Calendar. Instead, they follow the Hebrew calendar. Hannukah always begins on the 25th day of 'Kislev' in the Hebrew calendar. At nightfall on Thursday, December 15, 2023, Chanukah will officially end. Next year, Chanukah coincides with Christmas and New Year's, beginning on December 25, 2024, and ending on January 2, 2025.

What are the traditional foods and treats of the celebration?

Oil holds significant symbolism during Chanukah. "Chanukah celebrates a two-part miracle," explains Rabbi Yaskin. These miracles are recorded in the books Maccabees I and II, "The first is a military victory of a small, ragtag group of Jews defending their holy land against an invading army who wanted to ban religious life there. The second part is that having achieved that victory and [returned] to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, they set about restoring order to a place left in shambles. As quickly as they could, the Maccabees re-established services in the Temple. As mentioned, one of the services was lighting the menorah. After searching high and low, they eventually found one pitcher of oil, which would be enough for one day's lighting. It would take another week until more pure oil could be brought (apparently supply chain issues aren't a new thing...) They lit the menorah that day, and the one day's worth of oil stayed burning for eight for days until they could restock."

What is the symbolism of oil during the celebration?

Because of the prominence of oil in the Chanukah story, fried food is a staple at celebrations. Traditional fare includes fried donuts and latkes, a type of fried potato cake. Dairy foods are also prominent during the festival.

Are there traditional songs sung during Hanukkah?

Chanukah has its own set of traditional songs performed during the holiday. Songs include 'Haneiros Hallalu,' 'Ma'oz Tzur,' 'I Have A Little Dreidel,' and  'Oh Chanukah.' Rabbi Raskin recommended the following��YouTube playlist for curious listeners to enjoy.

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