Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration that begins on the 25th day of the Jewish calendar month of Kislev, which usually falls during the month of December, but occasionally begins during November. In 2010, Hanukkah is celebrated from sundown on December 1 and ends eight days later on December 9th.
Hanukkah (also commonly spelled "Chanukah") means "rededication" in Hebrew. Hanukkah refers to a second century (165 B.C.E.) conflict when Palestine was caught between two great Hellenistic powers: Egypt and Syria. This conflict divided the empire of Alexander the Great. Under Syrian power, there was a campaign to establish political and religious conformity by "Hellenizing" the Jews, forcing them to adopt Greek dress and customs. Even more serious, the Syrian emperor decreed that the Temple in Jerusalem, the national house of worship, would become a temple to the Greek god Zeus. A small band of soldiers led by Judah Maccabee staged a successful rebellion against the Syrians and rededicated the Temple. Hanukkah celebrates the restoration of religious freedom and the preservation of Jewish customs, as well as the traditional Jewish worship service.
Often called the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is one of the best known and most joyous holidays for the Jewish community. While not a particularly important religious occasion, Hanukkah is a special time for gathering and celebrating with family and friends. The "Festival of Lights" refers to the legend of a miracle that occurred during the rededication of the Temple. When the Jews sought to rekindle the menorah in the Temple sanctuary, they found only enough purified oil to last one day, yet miraculously, the small portion of oil burned for eight days--the length of time required to purify new oil.
During the eight days of Hanukkah, a candle is lit each night to commemorate the miracle of the oil in the Temple. Nine candles are arranged in a candelabra called a menorah--one for each night, plus the shamash or shammus (meaning servant), the candle used to light the others. Candles are lit from left to right, and the shamash is placed in the middle at a different height. Families gather at nightfall to rekindle the menorah flames, rededicate themselves to their faith, and share in festive meals. Blessings are sung or recited as the candles are lit. First, a special blessing for the Hanukkah lights, then a blessing for the miracles that happened long ago, and then the Shehehayanu--a blessing said on the first night of every Jewish holiday. It is customary to eat fried foods on Hanukkah because of the significance of oil to the holiday. Special potato pancakes fried in oil called latkes are served as a reminder of the miraculous oil.
Each night of Hanukkah may feature songs or readings, games and gifts ranging from "gelt" (money) to candy to other small presents. One Hanukkah tradition, especially for children, is playing the dreidel game with spinning tops. On each of the four sides of the dreidel, there is one of four Hebrew letters that stand for "Great Miracle Happened There."
A Chanukah Noel: A True Story
Illustrations by Gillian Newland
This O'Henry-like story captures the meaning of the holidays in a charming slice-of-life vignette. Charlotte's family is moving to France where they will be the only Jewish family in a small country town. In addition to the trauma of being uprooted and taken to a place where the language, food, and customs are unfamiliar, Charlotte has a class bully, Colette, who calls her "foreigner" and ridicules her French accent. As the villages prepares for Christmas, Charlotte finds herself additionally marginalized because her parents will only celebrate Chanukah. However, clever Charlotte finds a way to have her buche de Noel and eat it, too! With slightly selfish motives, Charlotte convinces her parents to make Christmas for Colette's poor family therefore enjoying the trappings of the holiday and de-clawing her tormentor at school. The focus on not making Colette's family is a nice touch, and in the spirit of Jewish tzedakah (charity cloaked in justice). This is a lovely tale for conveying the true meaning of the holiday season. There are no explanations of the religious or historical significant of either holiday, so there should be no controversy about a book that simply conveys kindness. The book's somewhat small format and dark but beautifully detailed pictures may not make this a first choice for story groups, but is a fine read-aloud for children. Much like Patricia Polacco's Trees of the Dancing Goat, this slight story shows that a holiday shared is one that is truly celebrated. 2010, Second Story Press, Ages 5 to 7, $15.95. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross (Children's Literature).
A Chanukah Present For: Me!
Illustrated by Jill McDonald
It is a board book inside the box that looks like a present. The box is covered with the Chanukah symbols printed on blue paper and is tied with a sparkly silver ribbon and bow. Open it up and children learn that Chanukah offers a lot to enjoy. For example there are delicious latkes which can be served with sour cream and/or applesauce. A spinning dreidel offer a game to play and a little bag is full of chocolate gelt. Then there are presents for lots of family members and friends and still more food including fried doughnuts. Kids are asked to guess what's inside and the illustration will give some help. Then there is a menorah and some of the candles are lit-kids are asked to count how many are brightly shining. The closing spread asks which part of the holiday a child likes best. Sharp eyes will spot the little mouse on each spread. As with the board book Hanukkah Lights there is no real information about the meaning of the holiday or the related symbols. Parents and others will need to provide the information behind all of the glitter and other facets of the holiday for it to make any sense. 2009, Scholastic, Ages 1 to 3, $6.99. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
A Chanukah Story for Night Number Three
Illustrated by Vasilisa Romanenko and Vitaliy Romanenko
I guess having your birthday on the third night of Chanukah is like being born on Christmas except that Chanukah does not occur at a fixed date each year, so it will only happen a few times in ones life. Told in rhyme this is a bit of a tall tale. Matisyohu Dov Ber Chaim Tzvi is the birthday boy, and he decides that he will celebrate by creating a huge latke and I do mean huge. He peels and grates 609 potatoes and tries to create a batter in his mother's blender but of course it is way to small. He enlists the help of a cement mixer (which must have been brand new), a dump truck and a hospital kitchen to cook uphis giant latke. In the meantime he cheers the spirits of those in the hospital because the cement mixer suddenly is transformed into a large dreidle and everyone helps celebrate his birthday by enjoying the latke and singing ôRock of Ages after lighting the Chanukah menorah. A street cleaning truck helps him tidy up the kitchen and just in time before Mon arrives back home. She suggests that he write his tale down to share with his father. On the back cover there is a recipe for latkes (one that will yield just twelve). 2009, Hachai, Ages 4 to 8, $12.95. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
Maya Ajmera and Cynthia Pon and Magda Nakassis
Religious traditions around the world are celebrated in this beautiful book by Maya Ajmera, Magda Nakassis and Cynthia Pon. The book is formatted to emphasize inclusiveness, with each double-page spread focusing on some aspect common to many religions. For example, "We read our holy books" is illustrated with photographs of a Kenyan boy studying the Qur'an, a young Buddhist in Mongolia reading the sutras, a British Christian girl reading the bible and holding a rosary and three Orthodox Jewish boys in Israel looking over their prayer books. The text is minimal, with each word and image chosen with care. The book builds to a powerful message: "We respect others, making friends and building peace." This book transcends boundaries of age and culture to become a meditation on spirit, sharing and respect. 2009, Global Fund for Children/Charlesbridge, $7.95 and $16.95. Ages 3 to 6. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum (Children's Literature).
What is faith? It means different things to different people. People also express their faith in various ways. The reader will see how people pray, sing, read holy books, praise, listen, and learn from others about the diverse faiths. The exceptional pictures in the book help the reader to understand how children from around the world have different ways of practicing their different faiths. The book also shows specific celebrations and special days in the numerous faiths. Food, drink, friends, and helping others are also very important in revealing faith in several countries. In addition, this book includes a world map to show the countries that are mentioned. Elements of faith and words to know are incorporated in the back of the book to help the reader understand more about the different faiths. This book could be used in the church or school setting to teach diversity in religion. 2009, Global Fund for Children, $7.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Cathi White (Children's Literature).
Similar in style and format to the "Celebrate" series from National Geographic, and using some of the same stock photography, this photo essay, developed by The Global Fund for Children, explores the many ways that faith is expressed around the world. Prayer, song, study, rituals, holy places, holidays, life cycle events, clothing, and food are all explained with simple, large-print statements such as: "We celebrate our faith in many ways," "We observe holidays in our homes or places of worship," "We care for those around us," "We respect others," and "Most of all, we hope." The captions included with the contemporary, full-color photographs of children around the world provide further information along with a four-page afterword, glossary of terms, and map indicating the places included in the book. The Rastafarian, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Daoist, Muslim, Hindu, Native American, and Mennonite faiths are included with examples from over 30 countries. Judaism is represented with photographs of a bar mitzvah celebrant, Yeshiva boys studying, a father and son lighting the menorah, an upsherinish ceremony, a girl braiding challah, a funeral in Israel, and the shaking of the lulav. However, the caption accompanying a boy blowing the shofar is inaccurate: "A father teaches his son to sound the shofar at solemn Jewish feasts." It is interesting to note that neither the Western Wall nor the Dome of the Rock is pictured on the page of holy places. Despite very minor weaknesses, this stunning presentation, celebrating the diversity of the world's religions, will be appreciated in Jewish libraries, especially those that own similar offerings like Sacred Places by Philemon Sturges. Category: Judaism. 2009, Charlesbridge, Unpaged., $16.95. Ages 5 to 9. Reviewer: Rachel Kamin (Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter, May/June 2009 (Vol. 28, No. 4))
Designed for young readers, the new "Celebrations in My World" series is comprised of nine titles, most of which have 14 chapters. Each title examines the history, traditions, beliefs and celebrations of the featured holiday. Written in kid-friendly language, the text is printed in a large, simple font on coloured backgrounds, adding visual appeal. Abundant, vibrant colour photographs, drawings and maps highlight the main concepts, while "Did you know?" arcs provide additional information. Some titles also have recipes for traditional foods or instructions for games. A table of contents, a glossary and an index are included. Hanukkah begins with the story of the Maccabees who defeated a Greek king in a three-year battle to win back their temple and the freedom to practice their own religion. This eight-day holiday, also known as the festival of lights, celebrates the rededication of the temple and the lighting of the lamp and the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days and nights. In this title, readers will find out about the menorah, special Hanukkah foods, songs and prayers, as well as learn how to play the dreidel game. Interesting and informative, the volumes in this series will not only help children to better understand other cultures but also to celebrate diversity. Recommended. Rating: ***½ /4. Grades 2-4. (Celebrations in My World) 2009, Crabtree, 32 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.) and $20.76 (RLB). Ages 7 to 9. Reviewer: Gail Hamilton (CM Magazine, December 5, 2008 (Vol. XV, No. 8)).
Aimed at primary children, these nine titles from the "Celebrations in my World" series explore the history and traditions of a variety of celebrations around the world. Large print provides easy to read text which is accompanied by vibrant captioned illustrations on 2 page spreads. Each book explores the origins of the celebration, its history, traditions, symbols, food, music, and activities which are associated with the holiday. "Did you Know" information is provided on each 2-page spread. A Table of Contents, Glossary and Index are also included. This series will be a welcome addition to primary classes which are taking a beginning look at different cultures and their celebrations. The large print and colourful illustrations make the books accessible to very young readers on an individual basis or in large group situations. Category: Non-Fiction Grades K-6. Thematic Links: Celebrations; Holidays; Diverse Cultures. Resource Links Rating: G (Good, great at times, generally useful!), Gr. 1-4. 2009, Crabtree Publishing, 32p. Illus., Hdbk. $20.76 ea. Ages 6 to 10. Victoria Pennell (Resource Links, February 2009 (Vol. 14, No. 3))
Hanukkah Around the World
Illustrations by Vicki Wehrman
This book is fun! North American Ashkenazi Jews often feel that the way they (we) celebrate holidays, tell stories, and sing songs is the only way/the best way/the real way to do them. But it's not, and after reading this book I think everyone will be ready to cook something new, play a different game, sing a different song. After a quick history lesson, we are told a couple of things that I didn't know--"Store your candles in the freezer to make them for longer". And for lighting the Hanukkah candles, in Sephardi households, "only the head of the household lights the hanukkiah". The "Hanukkah-Israel connection" is made much more clear--"once again, a small number of Jews relied on strategy not one, but many mighty armies surrounding them." Then we take a virtual trip around the world. In Israel, the city of Modi'in holds an annual relay race from Modi'in to Jerusalem in which a torch is passed from one runner to the next. In New York City, a family does "something different every day" of Hanukkah--a night to bake cookies, a music night, a movie night, a night to give to charity, a night to invite friends for a sleepover, and a night to exchange gifts. In Istanbul, we get a new song ("Ocho Candelas") and a new recipe for "burmelos"--fried fritters. In Samarkand,Uzbekistan, "it is customary for sodas to bring their families to their parents' homes to celebrate the first night of the holiday." We get a little vocabulary lesson (Bivi, grandmother, and Bobo, grandfather) and a recipe for jarkoff, traditionally served on the holiday. From Turin, Italy, there is a link between Tisha b'Av and Hanukkah--the first being sad, the destruction of the Temple, and the second being the joyful rededication. The recipe is for Precipizi a honey-covered sweet. In Australia Hanukkah comes in the summer, so the recipe is for a New York Blizzard, a vanilla ice cream/milk combination. In Warsaw Poland, we get potato latkes; in Nabeul, Tunisia, we don't get a recipe, but we do learn about the Festival of the Daughters. The book concludes with a Hanukkah Potpourri and a nice glossary. Recommended. 2009, KarBen, Ages 7 to 15, $7.95. Reviewer: Judy Silverman
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
For those Jewish children who live in parts o the world where it would snow on Hanukkah, this board book offer a nice counterpoint to all the Christmas hoopla. The children gather around a menorah which is placed in a window. The large center one (not named) is lit and then one of the other eight and mention is made about lighting one more ever night. Some of the Hanukkah traditions such as latkes, playing with a dreidel, exchanging presents, gelt (shown as gold foil covered chocolates), singing and dancing as well as a shared story are all part of the festivities which on the last night end with a big feast. Adults or others will have to fill in all the missing information such as what the holiday is all about and how the symbols have become associated with it. The final spread shows the fully lit menorah in a window with kids all wrapped up and outside in the winter night wishing everyone a happy Hanukkah. Sweets watercolor illustrations are delightful, but the story is rather slight. 2009, Candlewick, Ages 1 to 3, $5.99. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
Happy Hanukkah Lights
Illustrated by Michelle Shapiro
This is Hanukkah for the youngest celebrants. An observant Jewish family (both son and dad wear kipot) joyously celebrates the holiday with music, presents, and dreidl games. Obviously, this family lives in a northern or eastern location where Hanukkah brings snowy days. Dad takes charge of latke preparation and guitar playing. The cat and dog are cheerful observers of the holiday festivities. Bright colors, smiling faces, and upbeat rhymes will bring smiles to youngest listeners and their parents. On the final two pages, each night is observed with candles, visits from bubbe, singing with friends, toys, games and stories. This board book conveys the holiday spirit for toddlers and tots. It is a solid choice for sharing holidays with little ones who may still choose the box to play with over the present inside. 2010, Kar-Ben Publishing, $5.95. Ages 1 to 4. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross (Children's Literature).
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
The sister of Jackie Robinson, the first African American baseball player to break through the color barrier, tells an inspiring story from her family history. The Robinsons are the first black family to move into their Brooklyn neighborhood. There was some opposition, but the family of young Steve Satlow has been supportive. Steve, a big fan of the Dodgers and his idol, Robinson, is at the Robinson house as they decorate their Christmas tree. Steve mentions that his family doesn't have one. When Robinson brings a tree to the Satlows, the situation is awkward, since the Satlows, who are Jewish, do not celebrate Christmas. But they decide to accept the gift in the spirit of its giving. After some discussion and explanation, the Satlows have both their Hanukkah menorah and the Christmas tree. Lewis's single and double-page watercolor scenes depict both the neighborhood and the families naturalistically, clearly conveying the mixed emotions. The one illustration of the arrival from Russia to America of Steve's grandparents is in tones of sepia. There is even a panoramic view of the old Ebbets Field. Robinson adds a note on the factual background. 2010, Viking/Penguin Young Readers Group, Ages 5 to 9, $16.99. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children's Literature).
Menorah Under the Sea
Esther Susan Heller
David Goldberg, a marine biologist, arrives at McMurdo Station in Antarctica for five months of studying underwater creatures. When he prepares to dive on the first night of Hanukkah, he wonders how he can possibly celebrate when it is so cold and, because it is summer there, there is no dark night. He and his diving buddy Rob dress in their diving gear and descend to where it is so dark they need flashlights. As he studies the sea urchins, David recalls Hanukkah back home. He then has an "amazing idea." He makes eight stacks of urchins for the eight nights of Hanukkah that the oil burned, and a ninth for the shamash helper candle. He puts a starfish on top of each and photographs the underwater menorah. Back on land, he lights a menorah from home to share the holiday, his way of commemorating the holiday and the survival of the Jewish people. Full page color photographs taken, in the main, in the underwater darkness, display the sea creatures and divers attractively with obvious concern for the esthetic as well as the informative qualities. Readers may be inspired to learn more about both the Station and the ongoing research there. There is added information on both. 2009, Kar-Ben Publishing/Lerner Publishing Group, Ages 5 to 9, $7.95 and $17.95. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
My Chanukah Playbook
This sturdy board book with four pages to turn introduces the holiday of Chanukah to the very young. Through holes in the cover are eight shining gold foil-stamped circles. On the first double page stand five Maccabee fighters. A pull-tab reveals that the gold circles on the cover can be removed and placed inside their shields. The second double page discusses the miracle of the oil that burned for eight nights while depicting the "delicious snacks cooked in oil," jelly doughnuts and five latkes with centers to be filled with the gold circles. A note on the next spread mentions playing with the dreidel along with the importance of giving. There are six circles in a "charity" box to fill with gold "gelt." Finally, on the last spread, there is a "chanukkiyah" with eight candles to be "lit" with the gold circles for the eight nights of the holiday. The characters illustrated are very simply created. Instructions are clear; following them can add activity to the holiday celebration. The information is minimal, however, and would need supplementing. 2009, Little Simon/Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, Ages 3 to 5, $10.99.
Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Two Holidays: A Hanukkah and Christmas Story
Illustrated by Phyllis Harris
Sam is suffering from his own version of the December dilemma. With a Jewish mom and a Christian dad, he does not know which holiday to say he celebrates. All his classmates gleefully claim Hanukkah or Christmas as their own, but Sam has both a Christmas tree and a menorah and the confusion of his cultural identity upsets him. Is he, as children say, a Christmas or a Hanukkah? The answer is easy: he is both. With an intermarriage rate of close to 60% among contemporary Jews, this is a book that will provide a sympathetic response for many children of Jewish and Christian families in which both parents have kept their religious and cultural traditions. Illustrator Harris is to be congratulated for not showing a "Hanukkah bush" as part of Sam's celebration. His Christmas tree celebrates one part of Sam's heritage and his Hanukkah menorah represents another. It does seem unlikely that in today's society, Sam would be the only child in his classroom with this particular problem, but his mother's explanation that the holiday season celebrates love in any faith is a satisfactory solution to the problem. The book will answer a need for a specific audience and does so in a very gentle and sympathetic way. A great gift for families facing this quandary, and a good addition for libraries or classrooms, although the paperback format will not hold up through many circulations. 2010, Cartwheel Books/Scholastic, $7.99. Ages 4 to 7. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross (Children's Literature).
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