Blog

Eight days – Eight facts you may not have known about Hanukkah

Before There Were Potatoes There Was … Cheese! 

Potatoes only reached Europe in the 16th century – following the “discovery” of the Americas. Hey, so what about Latkes? Before there were potato Latkes the tradition was to eat cheese pancake – commemorating brave Judith who fed the Greek general before she decapitated him in his sleep, saving her village.

The Gomfrish family cheese production dairy, Entre Rios, Argentina, 1934 (Beth Hatefutsoth, Photo Archive, courtesy of Zusy Kimelshtil, Israel)

The Gomfrish family cheese production dairy, Entre Rios, Argentina, 1934 (Beth Hatefutsoth, Photo Archive, courtesy of Zusy Kimelshtil, Israel)

Hanukkah 24/6

The high Jewish holidays can only begin on four out of seven days of the week. Hanukkah can begin on any day of the week besides Tuesday

Pages of a Jewish calendar for the year 1791/2, listing Jewish festival days as well as market days and their location. (Beth Hatefutsoth Photo Archive)

Pages of a Jewish calendar for the year 1791/2, listing Jewish festival days as well as market days and their location. (Beth Hatefutsoth Photo Archive)

Hanukkah at the White House 

In 1951, Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion, on his only visit of the US as Prime Minister, gave President Harry Truman a menorah as a gift – but it was years before Hanukkah became a regular feature at the White House. In 1979 President Jimmy Carter became the first American president to publicly attend a candle lighting – which was held by Chabad. President Ronald Reagan often spoke at Hanukkah events, but George H.W. Bush was the first to attend candle lighting of his staff in the White House building itself. Bill Clinton followed in 1993. The first official White House Hanukkah party was held on by

President George W. Bush in 2001. He borrowed a 100-year- old Hanukkiyah from the Jewish Museum in New York for the event. Presidents Obama and Trump have since followed the tradition.

photo: President Truman receiving a Hanukkah menorah from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (center) and Abba Eban, Ambassador of Israel to the United States, in 1951. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

photo: President Truman receiving a Hanukkah menorah from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (center) and Abba Eban, Ambassador of Israel to the United States, in 1951. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

44 candles 

There are at least 44 candles in each box of Hanukkah candles. That is what you need to light the Hanukkiyah every night. But there is another way to fulfill the Mitzvah – by lighting a Hanukkiyah with oil.

Young women packing Hanukkah candles in a workshop, Eretz Israel, 1940s. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld Beth Hatefutsoth Photo Archive, Sonnenfeld collection)

Young women packing Hanukkah candles in a workshop, Eretz Israel, 1940s. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld Beth Hatefutsoth Photo Archive, Sonnenfeld collection)

Holiday calories 

Hold on strong: Israelis consume 24 million Sufganiyot during the eight-day holiday. With the average Sufganiyah containing 400-600 calories, that is about 10.8 billion calories. Potato Latkes are a bit less taxing on your calorie count – only 150 calories. So join your local gym after Hanukkah.

Hanukkah celebration in the synagogue, Geestemunda, Germany,1929 On the table the Shabbat candle sticks, and Hanukkah Lamp (Beth Hatefutsoth Photo archive, courtesy of Ilse Haas, Switzerland)

Hanukkah celebration in the synagogue, Geestemunda, Germany,1929 On the table the Shabbat candle sticks, and Hanukkah Lamp (Beth Hatefutsoth Photo archive, courtesy of Ilse Haas, Switzerland)

Dreidel as cover for criminal activity

So where did the Dreidel come into play? Apparently it was used a disguise. When Greek soldiers would make a surprise raid on students studying the Torah, which was forbidden by the pain of death, Dreidels would come out with the students pretending they are gambling.

Children Playing with Dreidel on Hanukkah at DP Camp, Germany 1945/46. Photo: Zvi Kadushin (Beth Hatefutsoth Photo Archive, Zvi Kadushin collection)

Children Playing with Dreidel on Hanukkah at DP Camp, Germany 1945/46. Photo: Zvi Kadushin (Beth Hatefutsoth Photo Archive, Zvi Kadushin collection)

The Price of a Menorah

In normal times the Menorah in the Holy Temple was solid gold. After freeing the temple, the Maccabees lit one that was made out of wood. No need to splash out cash here – as your menorah can be made out of any material. Want to see one of solid gold? Visit the solid gold replica of the golden menorah outside the Aish ha Torah building in Jerusalem. Circa 3-million dollars – depending on the price of gold.

Hanukkah Menorah made of tree root. The Synagogue in Afula uses it today. Photo: Herbert Sonnenfeld (Beth Hatefutsoth Photo Archive, Sonnenfeld collection)

Hanukkah Menorah made of tree root. The Synagogue in Afula uses it today. Photo: Herbert Sonnenfeld (Beth Hatefutsoth Photo Archive, Sonnenfeld collection)

Hanukkah in Space 

Astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman spent Hanukkah of 1993 in space. For safety reasons he could not light the candles, but he brought along a Dreidel and Menorah and wished Jews on planet Earth a happy Hanukkah via live video transmission.

Astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman (photo: NASA)

Ivana Mitrovic