Different times of the year are known for some distinct and expected normal occurrences. Just as typical as the seasons- which are always associated with specific features during each of their yearly circles. Following this same pattern, by observing the calendar, Jews across the globe mark the festivals, the Shabbos, and other family ceremonies according to the Jewish laws.
With winter sweeping most part of the northern hemisphere, and summer in the opposite south, and a hazy season within the tropics- what exactly is rather the common phenomenon at this period in Jewish congregations around the World?
Whether it’s the snow or sunshine, or the harmattan; the Jewish people have just celebrated the festival of light, known as Chanukah, an eight days feast usually the first in line after the long break following Succot.
Hannukah is that time of the year we pause to remember and mark the historic victory and the eight days of miracle that occurred during the Maccabees era. The victory in question was against the Syrian emperor, Antiochus Epiphanes, who set out to destroy Judaism by making some of the ancient Jewish observance a capital offense at that time in Jerusalem.
On the other hand, the eight days miracle that occurred at the end of the three years revolution against the tyrant Syrian king- is today demonstrated by lighting the Hanukkah candles. Beginning from the first day, one candle is lighted, then on the second, two candles, and so on, until the last night, when all eight candles on the menorah are lighted. This period is usually one of the happiest festivals commemorated by Jews all over the World.
The Story Of Hanukkah
Jerusalem was enjoying relative peace in 165 B.C.E (Before Common Era), until something went wrong- a strong movement with harsh decrees aimed at changing the customs and tradition of a people. Can you imagine telling a Jewish mother not to circumcise her male born child, something Jews have been doing for thousands of years? Not only were the women humiliated publicly while carrying their new sons who they had secretly circumcised- the two women and their new born were thrown off the city wall to their death.
Upon the instruction of the Syrian monarch, the following had been outlawed in attempt to weaken Judaism:
- Sabbath observance, and even
- Possession of a bible.
Next, another measure was put into place, orchestrated in a way to further destroy the Jewish people and their long relation to their G-d. Not only were soldiers ordered to sacrifice pigs at the temple, Jews were compelled to do the same henceforth- and the statue of the Greek god Jupiter was set up in the Temple’s Holy of Holies.
In 167 B.C.E. in the city of Modi’in, just outside of Jerusalem, the revolt against Antiochus was launched by Matttathias and Maccabees. With the aid of his five sons, Mattathias undertook a guerilla war against the Syrian troops. However, even though Antiochus and Mattathias had died during the early stage of the revolution, Judah (the 3rd son of Mattathias) assumed the military command.
Upon defeating the Syrian troops about two years later and re-entering Jerusalem- the Temple was found in ruins and needed to be repaired and rebuilt. The rededication of the temple took eight days, which is why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days.
Another incredible scenario that happened, which is referred as the “miracle of Hanukkah” was the small cruse of oil that burned for eight days while the Temple was being rededicated.
Hanukkah Celebration From Across Jewish Nigeria!
The festival of Chanukkah is usually a joyous moment of 8 continuous days spiced up with lighting of series of candles daily. Another interesting feature is the repeated routine of setting up flames across the menorah from right to the left on each day. Thanks to the generous donations by Professor William Miles from two of his last visit to Nigeria- many individuals have been able to light the Hanukkah light in their private homes.
For many people, it was a memorable festival of light, especially for members of Adat Yisrael Synagogue who are still basking in the joy of two new Sifrei Torah acquired from Eretz Israel.
Let’s look at how some of these celebrations of Hanukkah were marked across four regions in Nigeria:
#Number-One: Hanukkah Breakfast Party in Adat Israel Synagogue
Recently, Adat Yisrael Synagogue was in the news after speaking with Kish and Onyinye following their historic return to Jewish Nigeria with two Sifrei Torah. The whole synagogue was electrocuted in waves of jubilation after a lengthy street procession, to welcome the twin Torah into Lagos.
This Hanukkah, they decided to do something unique and entertaining, by hosting a breakfast party in the synagogue. Participants were treated to a hot-served local breakfast with kosher wine to quench their thirst. It turned out to be a special Friday event, and the group Shabbat preparation that followed stimulated the passion for the love of welcoming the Shabbat.
To add more color to the day, a birthday cake was presented to Oriel ben Kish, who had just turned 10 recently. In the presence of his age grade, the young lad was overwhelmed at the love shown to him on this special day. Most of these boys took part in the #ShabbatProject international event held on the 16th of November. Adat Yisrael became one of the first sets of synagogues to take part in this international project. In Northern Nigeria, Gihon Hebrew Synagogue also joined to promote the global event that originated in South Africa.
#Number-Two: Gihon Hebrew Synagogue
Crossing over to the northern part of the country, the Jews of Gihon Hebrew Synagogue have been known for their zeal in Judaism and their reputation as the oldest Jewish place of worship in the entire northern region. The Knesset, located in the Jikwoyi area of Abuja, is also the most populated with over 80 members including adult and the children.
The feast of Hanukkah presented an opportunity to remember the memories and victory of the feast, therefore rebuilding and strengthening their commitment as Jews. Nothing beats the joy of coming together as a community to share in the experience and spiritual significance of the whole event. No doubt, the victory of Hanukkah, if properly reflected in one’s life, simply means becoming triumphant in whatsoever you set yourself to do and achieve.
This was the mood of the congregants of the Jikwoyi Synagogue. Just the same degree of excitement that was witnessed when the synagogue made debut into the international #ShabbatProject event. Unlinke Adat Yisrael Synagogue that displayed a colorful Havdalah Concert in Lagos, Gihon Synagogue showcased their children entertainment group who performed songs, presentations, and a parashat game to mark the day.
#Number-Three: Olam Yisrael Synagogue Lagos
Returning back to the West- Olam Yisreal Synagogue in Lagos also participated in the #ShabbatProject by organizing the first-ever women Shabbat. The occasion was organized by Orah bat Yokhanan, and with the support of the Knesset management. To mark the international Shabbat weekend, the women of Jewish Lagos gathered together as one big group. They prepared different kinds of Nigerian local dishes (kosher for consumption), baked the challah and lighted up the Shabbat candles in a dramatic way.
Then again, the synagogue radiated in much energy during the feast of Hanukkah. The daily routine of igniting the candles on the menorah made a lot of difference. By coming together and putting on the lights for eight days- stronger bonds grew between brother to brother, and sister to sister. Following the instructions of the halakhah, the menorah was always placed near the window such that someone outside can see it. And for the folks inside the house- gazing directly at the lights in meditative consciousness is the key to unlocking the blessings of the feast of Hanukkah.
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Jewish Communities Celebrate the Festival Of Light in Ebonyi State!
Ebonyi is the smallest State in Eastern Nigeria, but it has one of the largest number of Jews comparatively. It also has one of the most vibrant and dedicated younger generation of practicing Jews talented in sports, music, arts and various other things. These youths, from time to time host state Sabbath gatherings- a measure that has kept them stronger.
Only few weeks ago, the 5th Ebonyi State youth Sabbath took place at Ezzamgbo. It attracted Jews from all over the State and outside the State like Ananmbra and Lagos.
Learn More About the State: The Visit of Professor William Miles to Jewish Communities Across Ebonyi State (Eastern Nigeria)
Our reporter and photo journalist has been on ground in Abakaliki (the State capital) and has been capturing exciting stories coming out of the State, including how the Hanukkah was celebrated in the following communities across Ebonyi:
#Number-Four: Adat Emunat Ha Yehudim
#Number-Five: Ohr Hakodesh Kehillah
#Number-Six: Beit Yaakov
On the first day of Hanukkah, there was a general gathering of the young women in the state at Adat Emunat Ha Yehudim in Ezzamgbo. And the fact it was on erev Hanukkah, it made the day truly exceptional for the host community- and the visitors in town. Everyone waited anxiously to catch a glimpse of the first candle as it comes to life, illuminating the space around it. This same ritual of saying the bracha and turning the flames on would be repeated serially till the concluding day of the festival.
“Shamash-” which is the helper candle on the hanukkiah gives light to the rest of the candles. So as the days goes by, its responsibility increases arithmetically. Our reporter on ground witnessed the candle lighting sessions for several days in Ohr Hakodesh Kehillah. The Synagogue is geographically located at the foot of a mountainous hill. This August, the Knesset was among those explored during the visit of Professor William Miles to Jewish communities in Ebonyi State.
A few yards, away from the popular presco junction, is Beit Yaakov. The synagogue houses the only Jewish library in the state, and also one of the oldest Jewish place of worship in Ebonyi. Rabbi Howard Gorin spent a great deal of time with the indigenes of the state. One of his parting gifts is the library at Beit Yaakov.
The eight day of the feast seems to be the most exciting of all the rest. Because the anxiety and the growing expectations to see all candles on the menorah glowing- signifying the end of the festival of lights. A good number of the members of Beit Yaakov gathered in group to honor the final lighting of the Hanukkah menorah. It was indeed a beautiful day worthy to remember.
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#Number-Seven: Har Shalom Knesset, Aba
The new Synagogue seems to have strongly grown in the observance of the Jewish laws, under the supervision of their spiritual leader, Derekyahu ben Nwede. With a growing number of membership, the congregation have continued to show commitment in upholding the Jewish lifestyles even though living in an isolated part of the state. To find out more about this small and happy community, go through our interview with Rosh Derekyahu during one of our visits to Har Shalom Synagogue in Aba, Abia State.
During the celebration of the Kulanu Across the Globe, members of the synagogue joined other congregation in Nigeria and around the World to honor the 25 years anniversary of the New York-based Organization. To make the occasion an unforgettable one, the Knesset offered free Ivrit classes for all the members, headed by their young chazzan, Tovia.
As one of the places visited by Professor William when two Jewish Synagogues in South-Eastern Nigeria received two mezuzot from Rabbi Wayne Franklin– majority of the members had menorah to use in their private homes. The period of the Hanukkah was for them an opportunity to tap from the blessings of observing the feast in perfection. As usual, the symbolic food eaten is mostly fried delicacies- and the reason for the oil is to attach spiritual reference to it. This, is according to the story of the Hanukkah, which recorded the miracle of the small cruse of oil that lasted for eight days as the Temple was rededicated after the Maccabean revolution.
#Number-Eight: Yavneh Synagogue, Ukanafun
Unknown to many- the Jews of Akwaibom State have been existing since the early days of Judaism in Nigeria. And till date, they have been thriving well and expanding, and upholding the Jewish ways of life. As one of the oldest and earliest Jewish strongholds in Southern Nigeria, the present Jewish residents have been living up to expectation and showing improved level of Judaism.
In the spirit of the Hanukkah, members of Yavneh Synagogue, located in Ikot Akpa Nkuk of Ukanafun L.G.A in the state, often gather as a family to celebrate the festival. During the weekdays, the leader of the synagogue would join his family and Jewish neighbors to light up the Hanukkah candle light. Nothing is comparable as lighting up the candles as a group. The pleasure and fulfilling desires thereafter is one of the keys of receiving the blessings that comes with the feast. Some halakhic instructions, directed towards women, is for them to take a rest and try to avoid doing any sort of work, as long as the candles are standing and glowing.
Spiritual uplifting is achievable at Hanukkah if one can connect to that same energy that kept a cruse of oil burning for eight days. By ensuring to do accordingly, in full observance of the rules guiding the festivals, a person can receive from the blessing. Lighting the menorah, a total of forty four candles during the feast, giving out gifts, playing the dreidel, and maintaining a diet of symbolic food- are the amazing features of the festivals. All through our generations to come, the story of the resounding victory against the Syrian troops and the miracle oil would be expressed by celebration of the feast of Hanukkah.
About the Writer: Avraham ben Avraham is a Nigerian Writer, Business Consultant, International Tour Guide and a Jewish Travel Blogger. He is the founder of the Jewish Nigeria Blog (his 2nd blog after the Jewish Standards). Some of his upcoming projects include: the Jewish Nigeria Online Forum, Jewish Nigeria Directory, and Parnasa Network (Nigeria). He is a member of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (New Jersey).
Upcoming Posts on Jewish Nigeria Blog:
- History Profile of some Synagogues across Jewish Nigeria
- Pushing towards the establishment of a typical Jewish Nigeria community settlement
- The “Book of the Returning Jews.”
- The fight against Anti-Semitism
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Todah raba for being part of our esteemed blog reader in 2019. We’re grateful and would continue to bring more interesting stories around Jewish Nigeria. Below, going down the memory lane- here are some of the selected best moments of 2019.