Category Archives: Judaism 101


We’re halfway through our Kickstarter campaign to Save Their Stories: cataloging and publishing online more than 200 diaries of Holocaust victims and survivors. I’ve seen your heartfelt comments, tweets, and posts about our project, and I’m so inspired by the outpouring of support we’ve received already—so far over 3,396 people have come together to make sure these important accounts of the Holocaust are brought to the public. But this is all or nothing—if we don’t meet our goal, we don’t get any funding at all. And there are just two weeks left!

I’m excited to share that at 2 p.m. ET today, I will be giving a live video presentation about this project that you can watch from the Kickstarter Project Page
I’ll also be answering your questions about the project and our work. Be sure to let your friends know—getting the word out is critical to meeting our goal! We can only do this together. Please back this project today with whatever amount you can chip in—every pledge makes a difference. Plus, when you support the project, you can choose from rewards exclusive to this Kickstarter, like a Save Their Stories t-shirt, tote bag, poster, limited-edition watercolor print painted by Holocaust survivor Simon Jeruchim, behind-the-scenes experiences, and so much more.

Check out the Kickstarter Project Page for more details about the meaningful difference you’ll make—and the rewards available exclusively to project backers. Some of these have run out already, so don’t delay!

I hope you’ll join us and help Save Their Stories today.
Kyra Schuster
Curator, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

P.S. If you’ve already backed this project, thank you! Help us reach our goal by sharing the project with family and friends on Facebook and Twitter.
Image: A watercolor made by Holocaust survivor Simon Jeruchim depicting a road in France near the home of his rescuer. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Simon Jeruchim

100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW,
Washington, DC 20024-2126

Submitted by Meriam Nagel



begins at sunset on Saturday December 24, 2016, and continues through nightfall on Sunday January 1, 2017. The first candle is lit the night of 12/24. The last candle is lit the night of 12/31.

JewFAQ: Answering Jewish Frequently Asked Questions for more than two decades!



In Hebrew Hanukah means “dedication.” In the years prior to 164 BCE, the Seleucid Empire (Syrian-Greeks) took over the Temple in Jerusalem, defiling it with pagan worship. When the Maccabees recaptured the Temple in 164 BCE , they ritually cleansed and rededicated it for Jewish worship once again. To mark this triumph, Hannukah was established as an 8-day national holiday, beginning on the 25th day of Kislev. The word Hannukah is also related to the Hebrew word for “education.” It is transliterated in many ways, including Hanukkah, Chanukkah, Hannukah and Channukah.


A 7-branched candelabrum, literally: “lamp”. The Torah gives specific instructions for how the Menorah was to be made and tended, and its light was to come from the purest olive oil. It is the oldest surviving symbol of Judaism. The golden Menorah that was made in the Desert stood inside the ancient Temple in Jerusalem . After the Maccabean victory, the Menorah was rekindled and rededicated. After the Second Temple’s destruction, and the seizure of the golden Menorah by the Romans in 70 CE, the menorah became a symbol of Jewish survival and continuity. The State of Israel has it as its emblem, and today it is a symbol often found in Jewish art and synagogue décor around the world.


This is a special kind of menorah used only during Hannukah, with branches or spaces for 9 candles -one for each of the 8 nights plus one for the “shammash” (see below). Hanuki’yot (plural) can be found today in a wide variety of designs, shapes, colors & materials. Traditionally, there are eight individual places for candles or flames all on the same level, far enough apart so as not to merge into a single flame. Jewish law stipulates that the 8 candles are not to be used for any practical purposes. They are not meant to be a light source for us to work by, but rather they are to be enjoyed for their beauty and as a reminder of the Hannukah miracles. The flames must last at least 30 minutes. While olive oil and wicks were used for centuries, today candles are typically used, though many Jews use oil and wicks to honor past traditions.


A “service” or utilitarian candle, called the “shammash,” is used to light the other candles on each of the 8 nights of Hannukah. It is lit first, then the brachot (blessings) are said or chanted, and then it’s used to light each of the other candles. The space for the shammash candle is set apart, above or below the other flames, to distinguish its status.


In 167 BCE, after the Seleucid king Antiochus issued decrees in Judea forbidding Jewish religious practice, a rural Jewish priest from Modi’in – Mattithias the Hasmonean – sparked the revolt against the Seleucid Empire by refusing to worship the Greek Gods. His son Judah, along with Judah’s 4 brothers, led an army of Jewish dissidents using guerrilla tactics to defeat the Seleucids in a military victory of the few over the many. Judah’s famous nickname was “Maccabee,” which means “hammer,” likely a reference to his military prowess. It may also be an acronym for the Torah verse attributed to Mattithias at the beginning of the revolt: “Mi Hamokha Ba’elim Adonai?” “Who is like You, Eternal, among the mighty? (lit: other gods)”

Dreidel (Yiddish) / Se’vivon (Hebrew)

A 4-sided spinning top. Both terms are related to the word “spin”. The dreidel or sevivon has a letter on each of its 4 sides: Nuhn, Gimmel, Hay, Sheen. These letters stand for “Nes Gadol Hayah Shahm” – A great miracle occurred there. This is a reference to the Talmudic legend describing the miracle of consecrated oil burning for 8 days when there was only enough to last for one. In Israel the sevivon has a different 4th letter, Peh, corresponding to the phrase “Nes Gadol Hayah POH” – A great miracle occurred HERE! The dreidel is used in low-stakes gambling games during Hannukah, involving pennies, M & M’s, nuts or raisins as tokens. It’s traditional to play for at least as long as the Hannukah flames are burning.

Latke (Yiddish) / Le’vivah (Hebrew)

The Ashkenazic (Eastern European) holiday treat is a savory potato pancake fried in oil. It is traditionally served with sour cream and/or apple sauce. Some people prefer them plump and golden, others insist that the thin, crispy variety is superior. In addition, we have the Sephardic (Spanish) treat: Sufganiot, donuts fried in oil with sweet fillings. These are especially popular today in Israel.


Yiddish for “gold “or “money.” Traditionally small coins were given to kids by grandparents or other relatives, as a token gift or to use while playing dreidel. Today, candy companies make a foil-covered chocolate version.

An important note here is that Hannukah is a minor holiday, and not a main gift-giving occasion. The Jewish festivals of Rosh HaShanah and Purim were the traditional times for gifts.

Hug Ureem Sa’me’ah – A Joyous Festival of Lights!

The traditional greeting/blessing we say to each other during Hannukah.







Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset on Sunday October 2, 2016
and continues through nightfall on Tuesday October 4, 2016 .

Yom Kippur begins at sunset on Tuesday October 11, 2016
and continues through nightfall on Wednesday October 12, 2016 .