Hanukkah At Home
Both Ashkenazim (Jews of Eastern European descent) and Sephardim (Jews of Spanish or Mediterranean descent) recite two blessings each night, which affirm the commandment to kindle the Hanukkah lights and recall the Hanukkah miracle. An additional blessing said on the first night of most Jewish festivals, the Shehecheyanu, thanks God for enabling one to be alive for the celebration.
Following candle lighting, it is traditional to recite Haneirot Hallalu, verses stipulating that "these candles" are holy and one is not permitted to use them except to look at them. Ashkenazim continue by singing Maoz Tzur, a hymn that remembers different redemptions in Jewish history, whereas Sephardim recite Psalm 30, a psalm for the dedication of the Temple.
Another reminder of the miracle of the legendary cruse of oil comes through the smells and tastes of oil that permeate special Hanukkah foods— potato latkes (pancakes) for the Ashkenazim and sufganiyot (jelly donuts) for the Sephardim. During Hanukkah, an additional prayer, Al Hanisim ("for the miracles"), which expresses thanks to God for the Jews' miraculous deliverance, is added to the Birkat Hamazon (Grace after Meals) and the Amidah (standing or silent prayer).
Jewish law prohibits work for one hour after candlelighting. This time period is traditionally used for "family learning," specifically to teach children about Hanukkah through study and discussion. Families also use the period after candlelighting for games, singing, and gift-giving.
A favorite Hanukkah activity is a gambling game played with a four-sided spinning top known in Yiddish as a dreidel (sevivon in Hebrew). Legend attributes this custom to Jews during the time of the Hanukkah story who would grab a dreidel and start to play if Syrian soldiers entered the house during Torah study or prayer. In truth, the custom is probably a much later one. In the Diaspora, four Hebrew letters--nun, gimel, hey, and shin--adorn the sides of the dreidel; they represent the words nes gadol hayah sham, meaning "a great miracle happened there." In Israel, the last letter is changed to a peh, representing the word po, "here," with the resulting declaration, "a great miracle happened here."
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