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The Jewish festival of lights

Hannukah is round the corner. This eight day holiday begins on December 15, writes Vandana Ketkar.

india Updated: Dec 08, 2006 19:22 IST

It is December, but autumn still lingers in the air. We have had our brush with cold weather, but the woolies are not out yet. Where indeed are the grey skies, the what-passes-for-incessant rain in this part of the world, the occasional hail storms throwing down fist-sized lumps of ice?

The sun is of course milder, adding to the revelry at the beaches, and it is dark by five every evening. Sunny weather is always welcome in Israel over Hannukah, keeps the children out of everyone’s hair; I for one love the annual guessing game of 'Is It Going to Snow in Jerusalem over Christmas'! Evokes the atmosphere of the birth in the manger many centuries ago, the Magi and all that goes with it.

The Holy Land does something to you, as you go on your morning walk, jumping over ruins of crusader castles, adding to your collection of Roman glass while trying to shield your eyes from the glare of the sun thrown back from the new palaces of steel and glass. So, with our feet on thousands of years of history and our heads in a vibrant, living modern country we try to make sense of the Jewish state.

The snake in this particular Garden of Eden is Benny Sela, a notorious serial rapist who has managed to escape from his cell at Ramle while being escorted to a court for a hearing. Israeli media has savaged the police for the jail break, throwing everything from ineptitude to corruption at the authorities.

Noted psychologists and psychiatrists are airing their views about when Benny Sela’s urge for forced intercourse will reappear. Rival talk show hosts would like the re-arrest to happen live, on their show if possible with exclusive rights to the stories of both the capturer & the capturee.

None of this is helping lower the level of hysteria among Sela’s previous victims and the general female population in the Sharon region. Tel Aviv was Benny Sela’s ku-karam bhumi the last time around, but where is he now?

Every street in the country has a picture of the Wanted Man on bus stops and lamp posts with the blurb, “let’s find him together” and the police helpline phone numbers… Which has led to some tragic-comic episodes, like the case of the beggar in Safed who was arrested twice by the police in two days because of his passing resemblance to the escaped convict.

Benny Sela’s neon-lit face leering down at unsuspecting women at lonely bus stops is distinctly unsettling and does not allow the scare to die down. As of now we can only wait and hope that the authorities do their job quickly, and keep our daughters well chaperoned…

Hannukah or the Jewish Festival of Lights is round the corner. This eight day holiday begins on December 15. The festival is observed in Jewish homes by the kindling of lights on each of the festival's eight nights, one on the first night, two on the second night, and so on.

A special menorah with nine candle holders called a Hanukiyah, is lit during this festival. There are eight candles, one for each night of Hannukah, the ninth candle is called the Shamash. The Shamash is used to light the other eight candles and is lit first.

Candles are placed in a Hanukiyah from right to left and lit from left to right. The holiday called Hanukkah meaning "dedication" because it marks the re-dedication of the Temple after its desecration under Antiochus IV. Spiritually, Hanukkah commemorates the Miracle of the Oil.

According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days - which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate new oil.

During the holiday it is customary to eat foods fried or baked in oil, specifically olive oil, with specialities like potato latkes and doughnuts called sufganiots being the most popular. Hannukah is top of the pops with children as in some families children get a gift on each night of the holiday! Now that’s a good tradition…

First Published: Dec 08, 2006 19:22 IST