- Associated Press - Sunday, December 9, 2012

JERUSALEM (AP) — Jews around the world ushered in the eight-day Hanukkah festival Saturday evening, lighting the first candles of ceremonial lamps that symbolize triumph over oppression.

In Israel, families gathered after sundown for the lighting, eating traditional snacks of potato pancakes and doughnuts and exchanging gifts.

Local officials lit candles set up in public places, while families displayed the nine-candle lamps, called menorahs, in their windows or in special windproof glass boxes outside.

Hanukkah, also known as “the festival of lights,” commemorates the Jewish uprising in the second century B.C. against the Greek-Syrian kingdom, which had tried to impose its culture on Jews and adorn the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem with statues of Greek gods.

The holiday lasts eight days because, according to tradition, when the Jews rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem, a single vial of oil, enough for one day, burned miraculously for eight.

For many Jewish people, the holiday symbolizes the triumph of good over evil.

Observant Jews light a candle each night to mark the holiday.

Oily foods are eaten to commemorate the oil miracle, hence the ubiquitous fried doughnuts and potato pancakes, known as latkes.

In Israel, children play with four-sided spinning tops, or dreidels, decorated with the letters that form the acronym “A great miracle happened here.” Outside of Israel, the saying is “A great miracle happened there.” Israeli students get time off from school for the holiday, when families gather each night to light the candles, eat and exchange gifts.

Hanukkah — which means “dedication” — is one of the most popular holidays in Israel and has a high rate of observance.

In Washington, Jeffrey Zients, the acting head of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, will help light the National Menorah on Sunday at 4 p.m. on the Ellipse. The U.S. Navy Band will perform Hanukkah selections.

President Carter attended the first menorah lighting in 1979, and President Reagan dubbed it the “National Menorah.”

 

In Ohio, the first public candle lighting on Saturday was done by Holocaust survivor Abe Weinrib, who turns 100 on Tuesday. Mr. Weinrib, who lit the first candle on a 13-foot public menorah at Easton Town Center in Columbus, said his biggest triumph was surviving the Holocaust, the Nazi campaign to eliminate Jews in Europe.

Mr. Weinrib told The Columbus Dispatch newspaper that he was arrested while working in Polish factories owned by his uncle when he was in his 20s. He spent six years imprisoned in camps, including the notorious Auschwitz.

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