By Mel Slater, Chaplain Center and School

The Thanksgiving holiday has passed and many have turned their focus on Christmas. Members of the Jewish faith tradition are currently celebrating the holiday in their communities known as The Festival of Lights or Chanukah.

There are two different versions of the name for the holiday that are often seen on cards and other materials. One is Hanukkah. It is simply the more Anglicized or English version and appears on most greeting cards and is used by many especially among those less observant. The other is Chanukah. It is considered far more Hebrew pronunciation related. The guttural “Ch” sound used does not exist in English and is the one almost singularly used by those more traditionally observant.

“The Jewish eight-day holiday of Chanukah began Sunday night, Nov. 28, at sundown, and concludes on Monday, Dec 6 at nightfall. Jews celebrate by lighting the Menorah (Chanukah ritual candelabra) each night, starting with one candle/oil lamp and increasing each night until eight candles/lights burn brightly on the eighth night,” said Chaplain School Deputy Commandant, Rabbi Chap. (Col.) Shmuel Felzenberg. “The message is clear, light will always prevail over darkness, and we should strive to always be on the increase in our service to G-d and love of our fellow man and woman.”

Felzenberg shared the background of the observance.

Historically, the holiday itself represents the victory by the ancient Israelite priestly Maccabees and their followers who led a revolt for religious freedom against the oppressive Syrian Greek Empire who forced a Hellenistic lifestyle and foreign belief system upon the Jews – thereby restricting their free exercise of the Jewish faith. With the military victory achieved, followed by the miracle of the oil in the then-restored Holy Temple Menorah when a single-day supply of oil burned for a full eight days, a holiday was instituted for perpetuity to commemorate the historic, and inspire the future, prevailing of light over darkness, good over evil, moral over immoral, pure over impure, and freedom over tyrannical injustice … for all people for all time, just as back then but even now and tomorrow.

The Chaplain School brings in students of different faith groups to learn and train together to become Army chaplains. During the course of training, the students have the opportunity to share their parts of their faith and observances with the other students.

Chaplain Basic Officer Leader Course student. Rabbi (Capt.) Aaron Melman shared the story of Chanukah and the lighting of the candles with his Chaplain Basic Officer Leader Course fellow students in class 21-003 on the Chaplain School campus at Fort Jackson on Nov. 29. Melman’s presentation included a historical background for the holiday, a description of the elements used in the celebration. He then lit the candles appropriate the particular nights and a song of praise. He also provided chocolate candies to his classmates that were stamped with the emblem of a Menorah. He shared that the chocolates are used in parts of the celebration.

“I wanted to share the Chanukah celebration with my class so they could get a feeling of what Jews do on this holiday, they could see it with their own eyes, they had an opportunity to learn a little about the holiday a Jewish tradition that they may not have heard about before or really didn’t know its history,” said Melman. “And really to see a candle lighting and here the blessings out loud and appreciate the significance of what the holiday represents.”

Melman was extremely surprised and happy when he later came to know that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley shared his presentation on his Facebook page.

The word got around (the Chaplain School) really fast,” said Melman.

There have been ongoing celebrations throughout military installations since the holiday started Sunday night, Nov. 28 and continues until Monday, Dec 6 at nightfall. They may be occurring in your area or may be seen on social media. To the Jewish community, Happy Chanukah!