Candles and Calories

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Tonight is the first night of Chanucah, the Feast of Lights, when we remember how the Maccabees and their tiny army took on the might of the Greek Empire – and won. But that’s not what we are celebrating when we light the Chanucah candles – one candle on the first night, two on the second, three on the third, and so on. We are celebrating the Miracle of the Oil. When the Maccabees liberated Jerusalem from the hands of the occupying Greek army, they found that the Greeks had desecrated the oil used for the Menorah that burned before the Sanctuary in the Temple. Only one flask of pure olive oil which still bore the unbroken seal of the High Priest was found, and that was sufficient for one day only. But, miraculously, it lasted for eight days, until fresh oil could be obtained. The festival is called “Chanucah” (the “ch” is guttural, as in “Bach” or “Loch Ness”), meaning “Dedication”, because the Temple, which had been used  for pagan worship by the Greeks, who set up a statue of Zeus there, had to be purified, reconsecrated and rededicated to God.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, nearly every Jewish holiday has its own particular food associated with it. It is this Miracle of the Oil that gave rise to the Chanucah custom of eating foods cooked in oil. In Europe (certainly in the UK, where I grew up), we used to eat potato pancakes (latkes), made by grating potatoes and onions (and sometimes carrots also),  seasoning them with salt and pepper, adding eggs and some flour for binding and then frying them in oil. It was only after we made aliyah that I discovered the Israeli preference for sweet doughnuts fried in oil. To tell the truth, before that, I had had no idea that doughnuts were fried! The doughnuts I used to eat in England were not at all greasy so I never imagined they were anything other than baked – that’s if I gave any thought at all as to how they were prepared.  In Israel, however, you are left in no doubt as to the method of preparation. 😉 So every time you eat a doughnut (which are usually filled with jam or dolce de leche), you are consuming about 500 calories. In fact, when I go to my favourite coffee-shop and buy a doughnut,  I usually just point and say: “Bring me some calories.”

More about the Feast of Lights  tomorrow – but just a final thought for today.  Chanucah bears out the humorous claim that Jewish holidays can usually be summed up in three sentences:
They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s go eat. 😉

Happy Chanucah, everyone.

About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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7 Responses to Candles and Calories

  1. Chrissie says:

    I like that! Three short comments to sum it all up, ending with food! How much better could life be? Well, to not have been attacked at all-and then to eat! Good Chanucah!

  2. bernard says:

    Although used to your style of writing – indeed to your thought processes – I am always delighted at the elegance of how you string words together, as well as by the breadth of your knowledge of the subjects about which you write, “Chazak Ve’ematz!!!

  3. David says:

    I am the KING of potato latkes!

  4. @David – funny, didn’t they eat you already?

  5. corporation offshore says:

    Hanukkah is a Jewish festival that occurs in December (the Hebrew month Kislev), also spelled Chanukah, (also called The Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication, Feast of the Maccabees) marks the reconsecration of the Temple of Jerusalem after its recapture from the Syrian Greeks c.165 BC. A miracle recorded in the Talmud – the burning of a day’s supply of pure olive oil for eight days, until fresh jars of clean oil could be brought into the temple – accounts for the eight days during which candles are kindled during Chanukah. The eight-branched candelabrum has become a symbol of the holiday. Chanukah was instituted by the MACCABEES, leaders of the Jews who fought against the Syrian Greeks. The Maccabees took over as the priests of the Temple and as the rulers of the Jewish state that they founded. Songs and stories associated with the holiday therefore refer to the Maccabees, particularly to Judas Maccabee, and to their victory: “the weak over the strong, the few over the many, and those who fear Thy Name over those who desecrate it.” Chanukah is also called the Festival of Lights, the Feast of Dedication, or the Feast of Maccabees.

  6. lynnsbooks says:

    I like that ‘I just usually point and say “bring me some calories”‘ and I’m totally going to steal and use it!
    Lynn 😀

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