“Hanukkah is the spirit of Judaism,” said Rabbi Shmuly Rothman of the Chabad House-Lubavitch.
The eight-day holiday, also known as the “Festival of Lights,” starts Friday with the lighting of the first menorah candle at sundown.
Considered one of the minor holy days on the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish people s recapture of the Second Temple in Jerusalem from the Greeks, who ruled over the region from Syria.
After the victory in 165 B.C., a small group of Jews, called Maccabees, cleaned the temple and prepared to rededicate it. Led by Judah, the Maccabees searched for oil to light the menorah, or candelabrum, which traditionally burned continuously in the temple.
Only one day s supply of oil could be found, but the menorah burned for eight days and nights.
“At a time when we mark the miracles, and the victory of the few over the many and the pure over the impure, Hanukkah has tremendous, tremendous meaning to it,” Rabbi Rothman said.
“It is the only time in history when our enemies were not after our physical bodies. The Greeks wanted us to accept Hellenism. They wanted us to thrive physically but with no religion, with no acknowledgement of a higher spiritual being. That was why the threat was so great.
“For a change, it wasn t the body they were after. But what is the body without a soul?” he said.
Rabbi Sam Weinstein of the Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim in Sylvania said Hanukkah “is a minor holiday but it is a holiday with a major message, one of religious freedom.”
He plans to speak on “What December Dilemma?” at the Temple on Dec. 26.
Rabbi Weinstein said he will explain that although Hanukkah and Christmas often coincide on the calendar, they should not be considered equivalent holidays.
He added that some Jewish families or interfaith couples overemphasize the gift-giving aspect of Hanukkah because they don t want their children to feel left out.
“It s two different religious traditions and two very different holidays,” he said. “Christmas is a major holiday for Christians emphasizing the birth of their messiah. And for us, it is one of religious freedom.
“So Hanukkah really deals with individuality, and within that individuality we have a right to be different. We shouldn t make Hanukkah the equivalent of Christmas,” Rabbi Weinstein said.
On Friday, a group of fourth graders in the Temple s Hebrew School will start Hanukkah with a drama. They have been rehearsing Star Shlep: Incident at Modine, a Star Trek-themed play recounting the Maccabees victory in a modern setting, principal Marcy Kuehnle said.
Rabbi Rothman and Rabbi Yossi Shemtov of Chabad House, which promotes Jewish education and involvement, said Hanukkah inspires them to share their faith with the world.
They hold a public Hanukkah celebration every year at Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin Park, and this year s event will take place in front of the Marshall Field s store from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 21.
Highlights will include live music, doughnuts, potato latkes (a traditional holiday food), Hanukkah gelt, or chocolate coins, and a menorah-building contest using Lego blocks.
Rabbi Rothman will publicize the holiday by placing a lighted electric menorah atop his minivan for the eight-day holiday.
“This will be the fourth year I ve done it and it s awesome, especially when it s dark outside and the menorah really sticks out,” Rabbi Rothman said. “I tell people that when you see the maroon minivan with a menorah, wave, honk, and yell Happy Hanukkah !”
Other local holiday activities:
w The Great Dreidel Spinoff, 4:30-6:30 p.m. tomorrow, Jewish Community Center, 6465 West Sylvania Ave. A dreidel is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters on each side. Participants will try to break the 536 spinning dreidels recorded in The Guinness Book of World Records. Cost is $5 per person, $10 per family, open to the public.
w Hanukkah program, 11 a.m. tomorrow, Temple B nai Israel, 2727 Kenwood Blvd., including a “menorah mania,” design-your-own-menorah contest.
w Netay s Annual Hanukkah Latke Party at Congregation Etz Chayim, 3 p.m. Dec. 25.
w Menorah Art Show: Artists Interpret Hannukiah (the eight-branch menorah), Janice Charach Epstein Gallery, Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit, 6600 West Maple Rd., West Bloomfield, Mich. A “Soft Judaica” exhibit at the gallery features the artwork of four fiber artists including Sherri Roberts of Sylvania. Hours are Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursdays, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., and Sundays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., through Jan. 29. 248-432-5448.