Jews across the suburbs and world will celebrate a more than 2100-year-old miracle starting Sunday.
Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, begins Sunday evening and concludes the evening of Monday, Dec. 26.
It recalls the victory of a militarily weak Jewish people over the Syrian-Greeks who had overrun ancient Israel and sought to impose restrictions on the Jewish way of life and prohibit religious freedom.
A light flickered in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the huge complex smashed by oppressors along with the jugs of oil that kept the flame eternal.
Only one vial was left, holding a day’s supply of oil.
Miraculously, that small amount kept the temple’s menorah lit the next eight days, until the rabbis prepared a new batch.
Thus began the Hanukkah tradition of lighting a candle each day for eight days straight.
That’s not all.
“Each night, as we light an additional candle on the Hanukkah menorah, we celebrate our capacity to fight the darkness of intolerance,” said Matthew Charnay of JCC Chicago (Jewish Community Centers), headquartered in Northbrook and serving about 60,000 people.
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“The holiday is a recognition of an ancient military victory of the Jewish Maccabees and a celebration of the taking back or ‘rededicating’ the temple,” Charnay said. “But today, it’s about gift-giving and eating delicious latkes and sufganiyot, jelly-filled doughnuts covered by powdered sugar.”
As manager of family programming at JCC Chicago, Charnay is gearing up for “8 Nights of Hanukkah.” It’s an all-ages celebration of the holiday with eight events including the lighting of the menorah.
JCC debuted “8 Nights of Hanukkah” in 2020, then a virtual format to unify people and snap the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Anytime our community can come together for a fun, engaging and interesting experience, that is a win,” Charnay said.
He will have much more to say on the eighth and final night.
Charnay is the featured speaker for the free, virtual “A Story by Candlelight” from 5:46-6:45 p.m. Dec. 25.
For details or to register for all “8 Nights,” visit jccchicago.org/8nights.
Charnay said the first night of the 2021 Hanukkah program outside Wrigley Field drew 11,000 attendees to enjoy music, dancing, magic, games and giveaways for children. And, of course, a huge menorah.
This year Gallagher Way’s Winterland Park has expanded inside Wrigley Field to allow teens and young adults to go ice skating in the park.
“Our ‘1st Night, 1st Light’ at Gallagher Way will be unforgettable,” Charnay said.
Each night is hosted by a different JCC Chicago program.
On Dec. 20, it’s “3rd Night, 3rd Light” with Apachi Day Camp, in person at three locations: Northbrook, Evanston and Lake Zurich.
In 2021, Glencoe’s Marisa Chez took her children Francesca, 7, and Marshall, 5, to the 3rd Night at the “Z” Frank Apachi camp in Northbrook. They are going again on Tuesday.
“This was mainly for kids,” Chez said, but along with the neon face paint, glow sticks, music and ice cream, adults enjoyed it, too.
“It was during COVID, there weren’t play dates really happening, so it was a nice opportunity for the parents to meet the kids our children talk about all the time, and meet their parents,” she said. “We’ve made friends through events and whatnot, and get together during the year. It just fosters a real nice community.”
The Bernard Weinger JCC, 300 Revere Drive, Northbrook, hosts three straight events on nights four through six: “Hanukkah Hangtime” complete with a bonfire Dec. 21; the intriguing “Latkes, Libations & Lo-Mein” for the 20s and 30s crowd Dec. 22; and the “Dreidel Drop-in” competition Dec. 23.
Two other offerings will remain virtual: a “Hanukkah Sing-Along,” from 5:30-6 p.m. Dec. 19; and a streaming movie, “Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas,” on the seventh night, Dec. 24, presented by JCC Chicago’s Jewish Film Festival.
There’s no need to dream.
“We are eager to celebrate publicly and share the warmth and fun of Hanukkah with the entire Chicagoland community,” Charnay said.