About the Holiday
Chanukah, also spelled Hanukkah, is the eight-day Jewish wintertime “festival of lights” that commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE. Special prayers, oil-based foods, and gifts are also part of this looked-forward to holiday. Today’s reviewed book reveals the history and traditions of Chanukah. If you are celebrating Chanukah this week—many wishes for a meaningful and enjoyable holiday!
The Story of Hanukkah
Written by David A. Adler | Illustrated by Jill Weber
The story of Hanukkah began many centuries ago when Israel was known as Judea and the Jews living there worked as farmers and shepherds. Holidays were spent at the beautiful Temple, where the gates were covered in gold and silver. and a light—the ner tamid—always burned. While the Jews did not rule their land, they lived in peace. “Then a Greek, Antiochus IV became king. He tore down the walls of Jerusalem. Thousands were killed. Anyone who lit Sabbath candles, studied Jewish law, or refused to bow to Greek idols was put to death.”
When Antiochus’s army came to the town of Modiin, “they demanded that Mattathias, an old priest, worship one of their gods.” He refused and with his five sons and other followers ran into the hills. The soldiers chased them, but were attacked by “brave Jews hiding behind large rocks and inside caves….” When Mattathias died his son Judah became the group’s leader. He was known as the Maccabee, or “the hammer,” and the people who fought with him were called Maccabees.
Antiochus did not give up easily. He sent his soldiers back on horses and even armored elephants. They carried swords and bows and arrows and were well-trained fighters. But despite the fact that there were 600 soldiers for every one Maccabee, the Maccabees defeated the mighty army. “Judah then led the Maccabees to Jerusalem. The Maccabees cried when they saw the Temple ruined and filled with garbage.” They went to work to restore the Temple to its former beauty.
Finally, the Temple was rebuilt and it came time to light the ner tamid. When the people looked for oil to fuel the light, however, all they found was a single jar with only enough oil to burn for one day. They lit the ner tamidm and although supplied with only a meager amount of oil, it burned for eight days—enough time for more oil to be prepared. “On the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, the Temple again became the ‘House of God.’”
Judah told his people that “every year on that date an eight-day holiday would begin.” The holiday would be called Hanukkah, meaning “dedication.” Today, Jews all over the world celebrate Hanukkah. Every night they light one more candle on the menorah. They sing special songs, eat latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), and exchange gifts. Children also enjoy playing a game with a four-sided top called a dreidel. On each side of the dreidel “is a different Hebrew letter—the first letters of the Hebrew sentence Nes gadol hayah sham, which means ‘A great miracle happened there.’” “Hanukkah celebrates one of the first fights for religious freedom.”
With his exceptional storytelling skills, David A. Adler reveals the history of Hanukkah to children. In simple, yet compelling sentences, Adler clearly depicts the faith of the Jews and the dangers they faced from Antiochus and his army. Children will marvel over the astounding defeat of Antiochus’s soldiers at the hands of the Maccabees and be filled with awe as the Temple is rebuilt and the small amount of oil sustains the flame in the ner tamid for eight days. Children unfamiliar with Hanukkah celebrations will discover the meanings behind the traditional foods, dreidel game, and lighting of the Menorah in clear language full of the pride and emotions Jewish families feel during the holiday.
In her bright acrylic paintings Jill Weber brings to life the story of the Jews and the Maccabees, allowing children to fully experience the environment and perils of the time period. Her patchwork fields tended by farmers and shepherds give way to the majesty of the Temple with its central altar and glowing eternal flame. Weber’s battle scenes are particularly effective in presenting the destruction, fear, and final victory experienced by the Jews. Readers will be cheered by the joy depicted in the faces of the people celebrating the restoration of the Temple and the excitement of families observing Hanukkah today.
A recipe for Latkes as well as instructions on how to play Dreidel follow the text
The Story of Hanukkah is a wonderful introduction to the holiday for children learning their own heritage or for children discovering the traditions of friends, family, and others.
Ages 5 – 8
Holiday House, 2012 | ISBN 978-0823425471
To view more of the many, many books by David A. Adler, visit his website!
Discover a gallery of book illustration and other design work by Jill Weber on her website!
Festival of Lights Word Search
Picture Book Review