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Join St. Mary’s for a Special Menorah Lighting

(Courtesy of St. Mary’s Hospital) Please join St. Mary’s for a menorah lighting in front of the Kotel at Night in Passaic—OK, a wall panel of the Kotel, but there will be sufganiyot, dreidels, gelt and more for kids and adults. It will be the second night of Chanukah, Monday, December 23, at 5:00 P.M. at St. Mary’s General Hospital, 350 Boulevard, Passaic, NJ 07055.

St. Mary’s has been working diligently to accommodate the Orthodox Jewish community of Northern New Jersey and particularly the Passaic-Clifton community—the second largest in New Jersey. They have been educating staff on the nuances of the frum community, including understanding the genetic diseases, the laws of Shabbat and Yomin Tovim and common everyday life in the religious Jewish  world.

So how does their staff learn about Chanukah?

“I wrote a paper describing Chanukah, as an overview for our staff,” said George Matyjewicz, PhD, community liaison and consultant to St. Mary’s. “In it I emphasize that it is not the Jewish Christmas that some believe, with all the presents for children. And, of course, I emphasized the proper pronunciation and that guttural sound of the chet “ch”—something that I still struggle with 14 years after my conversion.”

What Is Chanukah?

“The holiday of Chanukah dates back to 165 BCE and celebrates the miracle of light and lasts for eight days,” said Matyjewicz. “Giving of gifts is a more modern phenomenon from the last century. Chanukah is a time of family celebration, and if gifts are given, they are generally small trifles. The rampant gift-giving mania that surrounds Christmas, and to a much lesser extent, Chanukah, has more to do with the unbridled consumerism than anything religious.”

Chanukah is not found in the Torah; rather, it was initiated by the sages. It is not the type of holiday that requires time off or extended time in shul or special requirements other than lighting candles in a menorah for eight days. The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication,” and is thus named because it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple.

The Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus IV, who ruled Israel from 175-166 BCE, issued a series of decrees designed to force his Hellenistic ideology and rituals upon the Jewish people. He outlawed the study of Torah and the observance of its commands and defiled the Holy Temple in Jerusalem with Greek idols.

Against all odds, a small band of faithful but poorly armed Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth and drove the Greeks from the land. When they reclaimed the Holy Temple, on the 25th of Kislev, they wished to light the Temple’s menorah, only to discover that the Greeks had contaminated virtually all the oil. All that remained was one earthen jar of pure oil, enough to last one night—and it would take eight days to procure new, pure oil. Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil lasted eight days and nights, and the holiday of Chanukah was established. To commemorate and publicize these miracles, we light the Chanukah menorah (on each of the eight nights of Chanukah).

How Do You Pronounce It?

Chanukah is one of those difficult words to pronounce, because of the Hebrew letter ח (chet), and the English rendering “Ch,” which is a guttural sound like you are clearing your throat. Many non-religious and non-Jews call it Hanukah.

Chanukah ‘Gifts’

Common gifts given are the dreidel (a four-sided spinning top bearing the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for nes gadol hayah sham, “a great miracle happened there”) and Chanukah gelt (“money”). Dreidel is usually played for a pot of coins, nuts or other stuff, which is won or lost based on which letter the dreidel lands on when it is spun.

Chanukah gelt is the traditional gift to children for good behavior or devotion to Torah study, which gives them the opportunity to give the mitzvah (“commandment” or “good deed”) of tzedakah (“charity”). For Chanukah, since you can’t count money in front of the candles, foil-covered chocolate gelt was created and is traditional.

Chanukah Foods

Since the Chanukah miracle involved oil, it is customary to eat foods fried in oil. The Eastern-European classic is the potato latke (pancake) garnished with applesauce or sour cream. Cheesecake is common, as is the reigning Israeli favorite—the jelly-filled sufganya (doughnut).

Chanukah Lessons

Powerful lessons were learned from the original Chanukah story, which are taught to children and adults alike. And some say, “We must listen carefully to what the candles are saying.” So, what are the flickering flames telling us? Here are some messages:

a. Never be afraid to stand up for what’s right. Judah Maccabee and his band faced daunting odds, but that didn’t stop them. With a prayer on their lips and faith in their heart, they entered the battle of their lives—and won. We can do the same.

b. Always increase in matters of goodness and Torah-observance. Sure, a single flame was good enough for yesterday, but today needs to be even better.

c. A little light goes a long way. The Chanukah candles are lit when dusk is falling. Perched in the doorway, they serve as a beacon for the darkening streets. No matter how dark it is outside, a candle of Godly goodness can transform the darkness itself into light.

d. Take it to the streets. Chanukah is unique in that its primary mitzvah is observed in public. It’s not enough to be a Jew at heart, or even at home. Chanukah teaches us to shine outwards into our surroundings with the Godly glow of mitzvahs.

e. Don’t be ashamed to perform mitzvahs, even if you will feel different. Rather, be like a menorah, proudly proclaiming its radiant uniqueness for all to see.

Greetings at Chanukah

Will my Jewish friends or work colleagues be offended if I say “Merry Christmas”? It’s possible, but many understand “Merry Christmas” as a generic, seasonal greeting at this point and won’t be offended. “Happy Holidays” is nice, too, and somewhat more inclusive.

The proper greetings for Chanukah can be: “Chanukah Sameach!” (Happy Chanukah) or simply “Chag Sameach!” (Happy Holiday), which covers all holidays. Or if you want to show off your Hebrew skills, say “Chag Urim Sameach!” (urim means “lights”). Many say Happy Chanukah in Yiddish, which is “Ah Freilichen Chanukah.”

You’re Invited!

St. Mary’s executive team, directors, board of trustees and halachic advisory board invite you to join them as they light the menorah on December 23 at 5:00 p.m. at “the Kotel”—the one in front of the building at 350 Boulevard, Passaic. And wishing you all a chag urim sameach!

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