San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Hanukkah: A Time to Celebrate a Miracle

One of the world’s most joyous holidays begins this weekend.Hanukkah, sometimes referred to as the Festival of Lights, starts tomorrow. (Technically, like all Jewish holidays, it gets under way at sunset the night before, so make that tonight.) The celebration lasts eight days and falls anywhere from late November to early January in the secular calendar, but a solidly December schedule, as occurs this year, is most common.

The holiday commemorates the victory by the Jewish Maccabeean army over Greek occupiers, and the subsequent rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C. following its desecration by the invaders.

Oil plays an important role in Hanukkah: Just a scant amount of clean oil was to be found in the temple to light the eight-candled menorah for the rededication ceremonies, but, miraculously, it burned for eight days.

“The celebration follows the admonition of pirsuma nisa, ‘to publicize the miracle,’” explains Rabbi Hersch Spalter of San José’s Chabad Lubavitch congregation.

And publicize Costa Rica’s Jewish community does, with menorah displays large and small. The distinctive candelabrum, Hanukkah’s most recognizable symbol, has even found its way into shopping malls in the metropolitan area – Terramall and Mall San Pedro, east of San José, and Multiplaza mall, in the western suburb of Escazú, have all installed menorahs – amid the other holiday decorations.

For more about Hanukkah, The Tico Times decided to turn to the experts, the students at the HebrewDay School in the western San José district of Rohrmoser. Excerpts:

“We light the candles of the menorah. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight candles.”

–Abraham and Itzjac Lechtman,


“There are eight candles because there are eight days of Hanukkah. There’s another name for the menorah. It’s called a hanukkiah.”

–Yarden Dadi, kindergarten

“When the Greeks came into the temple, they brought pigs, and took out the lamps, but afterwards there was only one little bottle of oil. But it was a miracle. The oil lasted for eight days.”

–Leah Fainzilber, 2nd grade

“The Jews beat the Greeks in the war. A miracle happened. There was only one bottle of clean oil. It was supposed to last a few hours, but it lasted for eight days instead.”

–Eden Dadi, 4th grade

“When we light the menorah, we start from the right. We light one. Then the second day, we light the second one.”

–Shterna Spalter, 2nd grade

“There’s a big menorah at La Sabana. They light it. There was no more oil in the temple, but they found a little and it lasted for eight days instead of one day. I like to go to the malls. They have menorahs there, too.”

–Gitel Spalter, kindergarten

“The day when we go to the menorah of La Sabana, it’s a very fun and exciting day. We all come and feel the joyfulness of Hanukkah. We have raffles, games, activities, food and, for sure, we get to see how to light the menorah. Bring your family and friends, so we all have fun and understand the meaning of Hanukkah.We hope to see you.”

–Isaac Unger, 6th grade

“They only found a little bit of oil, but it lasted for eight days.”

–Penina Sason, 4th Grade

“Everyone, go to Sabana.”

–Sigal Wigoda, kindergarten

“On Hanukkah, we play dreidel. Dreidels are spinning tops. They have triangular bottoms and a cube for a body. On top there is a small stick. On each side of the cube is a Hebrew letter. The letters stand for ‘A great miracle happened there.’ The Greeks tried to catch the Jews studying the Bible, and whenever they came into a Jewish house, the children would put away their scrolls, and started to play dreidel. This way the Greeks were fooled. Dreidels are a very fun way to remember one of the miracles of Hanukkah.”

–Mayan Lawent, 6th grade

“I’m not very good at the dreidel. When the Greeks wanted to chase us, we played the dreidel instead.”

–Abraham Sason, 2nd grade

“I like to play dreidel. I’m very good at it. I know a lot of Hanukkah songs, too. I light the candles of the menorah.”

–Daniel Dadi, 2nd grade

Latkes (potato pancakes cooked in oil) are to remember that there was no more oil. I eat a lot of them at Hanukkah.”

–Elhazar Sason, 1st grade

“Hanukkah means, ‘They rested.’ The Maccabees rested after they won the war.”

–Meir Fainzilber, 4th grade

“The Jews were learning the Bible. The Greeks said, ‘You can’t learn anymore or observe the commandments,’ so they started burning the Bibles, but the Jews won the war with the Greeks.”

–Moshe Spalter, 4th grade

(Thanks to Chana Spalter and the teachers at the HebrewDay School.)


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