Hanukkah falls in December, and some families share gifts.

But that is where the similarity ends between the eight-day Jewish celebration and the Christian holiday of Christmas.

Hanukkah, which is about the story of the Jews’ struggle for religious freedom, began at sundown Friday.

Jews in Northern Nevada and around the world lit the first candle on the menorah and told the story of what happened in 165 B.C. when Jewish soldiers recaptured the Temple of Jerusalem from the Greeks and Syrians, who had forbidden them from practicing their religion. The Greeks and Syrians wanted the Jews to assimilate into their culture.

The Temple of Jerusalem was cleaned after it was recaptured, and only one vessel of oil remained that had the seal of the high priest for the menorah, a nine-stemmed candleholder that traditionally was kept lighted at all times. But the oil lasted for eight days.

The lit menorah usually is placed in a window for all to see.

“By Jews staying with their true religion, this is what keeps Jewish continuity,” said Rabbi Mendel Cunin of Chabad of Northern Nevada. “This is why we publicize that we are Jewish. We are proud of our customs and beliefs.”

Atop his van, Cunin has a menorah with bulbs he will light each night. He drove Friday morning to Sacramento to participate in the menorah lighting with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Local rabbis said that although Hanukkah was not one of the holidays prescribed in the Torah, it has deep meaning. The Hebrew word Hanukkah, which also is spelled Chanukah, means dedication.

“Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas,” said Rabbi Menashe Bovit of Temple Emanu-El. “It is unique in its own message.”

And Bovit said that message is for Jews to rededicate themselves and embrace their faith.

“The real miracle is the Jews are instructed not to look at the victory of the warrior, but that Jews proudly stood up and embraced their religion and were willing to fight for it,” Bovit said.

That it is the reason why Hanukkah is the most public of Jewish celebrations, Cunin said.

Rabbi Myra Soifer of Temple Sinai said this time of the year “can be particularly challenging for Jews as a minority in the community.”

“There is an assumption during this time of year that everyone is Christian,” she said.

But she said Hanukkah is about religious freedom and standing up for what you believe.


The Chabad of Northern Nevada is hosting a Hanukkah celebration at 4 p.m. Sunday at the West Street Plaza next to the Truckee River. The main event will be the ice carving of a 4-feet-high menorah by the chef of the Atlantis Casino Resort.

There will be music, playing of the traditional dreidel game and eating the traditional latkes and jelly doughnuts.

Everyone is invited to attend the free event.


Latkes are the traditional hot, crisp potato pancakes eaten during Hanukkah. Here is a recipe from Allrecipes.com®. Serve them topped with homemade applesauce or sour cream.

Potatoe Latkes


2 cups peeled and shredded potatoes

1 tablespoon grated onion

3 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

11/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup peanut oil


1. Place the potatoes in a cheesecloth and wring, extracting as much moisture as possible.

2. In a medium bowl stir the potatoes, onion, eggs, flour and salt together.

3. In a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot. Place large spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the hot oil, pressing down on them to form 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick patties. Brown on one side, turn and brown on the other. Let drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

Servings: 6