How believers in Israel celebrate Hanukkah
Photo: KNI Staff
Also known as the Feast of Dedication or the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday through which believers can, and do, express their love and worship of Yeshua the Messiah even though the holiday itself is not a biblical feast.
Starting on the 25th of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, this year the holiday begins the evening of Dec. 12.
The eight-day holiday commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean victory over the Seleucid Empire. The traditional lighting each night of one new candle on a nine-branched menorah (hanukkiah) recalls the story that at the rededication, while there was only enough pure oil to light the Temple’s menorah for one day, the oil miraculously lasted eight days – the time needed to acquire a further supply.
Believers in Israel will have seen hundreds of different styles of hanukkiot with accompanying brightly colored candles appearing in shops in the weeks leading up to the feast. They may also have been dazzled by the glittering array of festive sufganiot (doughnuts) that are among the traditional “oily” foods eaten during the holiday. Many believers join in with the festivities, but with an emphasis on Yeshua.
“Our family will light all of the candles every night,” Howard Bass, leader of the Nachalat Yeshua congregation, told KNI. “The full light has come — Yeshua — and he has lit us to be light in the world. The light will be eternal, symbolically represented by the eight days.”
“As a congregation we will also light all of the candles during our Hanukkah service,” Bass added. “We will have sufganiot and a teaching connected with the holiday in the light of its significance in God’s plan of redemption and the spiritual and carnal battles connected with that.”
American-Israeli attorney, Jamie Cowen, said that his family also lights candles during the holiday. Again, the emphasis is on Yeshua.
“As our children were growing up we prayed the traditional blessings and lit the candles in the hanukkiah in the prescribed order,” Cowen told KNI. “The one major difference from the traditional Jewish community is that we associated the shamash (the servant candle) that sits atop or to the side of the hanukkiah with Yeshua.”
Moreover, Cowen adds: “I would always point out that Yeshua is the light of the world, and he lights our lights (the rest of the hanukkiah) so we too can be lights to the world.”
Hanukkah is also a time of gift giving, a tradition that the Cowen family keeps.
“For each night of Hanukkah, we would give our children one small gift each. On the final night, we would give everyone their major gifts,” he said. “In Israel we’ve continued most of the traditions with our grandchildren.”
For believers like Ava, whose family immigrated to Israel from the U.S. over a decade ago, Hanukkah is a time to recall the faithfulness of God.
“Our family lights the candles in the traditional way to remember the real miracle of Hanukkah is that God Almighty, by His Sovereign arm and dedication to keep His covenants with His chosen people, saved them against all the odds,” Ava shared with KNI.
“The reciprocal side of this miracle is that a small group of dedicated faithful servants to the Rock of Ages joined together to fight their enemy. In so doing they won the battle, purified the desecrated Temple and dedicated it back to the Lord,” Ava says.
Indeed, for believers the holiday may be a time for rededication to the Lord of their own lives as temples of His Holy Spirit.
Tikva from the Negev told KNI that when she was growing up she didn’t really appreciate Hanukkah.
“I just thought it was something we Jewish kids had instead of Santa. I got a gift from my parents, which I appreciated, but I still felt left out,” she shared. “But now, as a Messianic Jew, I appreciate that Hanukkah is a time of rededication to my relationship with Yeshua.”
For Emma in Jerusalem, this year’s holiday holds particular meaning.
“I had not celebrated Hanukkah personally for a number of years,” Emma told KNI. “I had become confused by whether the Hanukkah story is true, and whether we should be lighting candles or not. So I just let it pass me by.”
“This year is different, though,” Emma continued. “I am facing a major transition that had the potential to shake my faith and cause me to wonder what my life has been about this last decade in Israel.
“Amazingly, I am noticing that God is using this move to draw me closer to him – to renew the wonder I had in him when I first came to faith. He is causing me to realize deeply that my identity and acceptance is in him, and not in what I do or how much money I earn or who I associate with.
“It is a beautiful thing to sense his love during this Feast of Dedication. I realize I am effectively, very quietly, dedicating my life – his temple – back to him.”
“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem.
It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area
walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.”
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Karen Faulkner is a British Israeli citizen. She has a Master's degree in Human Rights & Transitional Justice from Hebrew University, Jerusalem.