Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is a prime opportunity for Chabad of Bakersfield to help revive traditions among all people of the Jewish faith, whether they are regularly observant or not.

Like Christmas, Hanukkah is a time when families gather, and childhood traditions, both secular and religious, are practiced. Many people only practice their faith during the major holidays, and can a bit rusty about how traditions are observed. This year, Hanukkah begins at sunset on Dec. 8, and concludes at sunset on Dec. 16. The festival is marked by the nightly lighting of the iconic menorah to commemorate the miraculous burning of the menorah in the temple in Jerusalem detailed in the biblical books of the Maccabees.

Chabad of Bakersfield is hosting two major events to celebrate Hanukkah, a public Menorah Lighting Ceremony on Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. at The Marketplace, and Hanukkah Wonderland, a family celebration at the Chabad of Bakersfield on Dec. 12 at 5:30 p.m. The synagogue is also providing menorah lighting kids and guidebooks for observing the festival, which is governed by several mitzvahs, or commandments, governing everything from which prayers are to be said, to permissible activities and foods that are eaten during the holidays.

Hanukkah is the celebration of the rededication of the Temple in Israel following the vicious occupation of Israel by the Seleucid dynasty. The Seleucids were a Syrian-Greek culture, and its rulers, particularly Antiochus IV, sought to eradicate all religious traditions in its scope, replacing them with their own Hellenistic practices. That campaign was particularly harsh against the Jews, with their strict observances of all aspects of life that were in direct conflict with Hellenistic culture. The Jews, under the leadership of the Maccabees, fought back, and eventually threw off their oppressors and cleansed their country of foreign practice. In the process of purifying the Temple, the Jews discovered there was only one day's worth of lamp oil to relight the Temple lamp. But that one day's supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be consecrated.

"Hanukkah also propagates the universal message that ultimately good will prevail over evil, freedom over oppression and light over darkness," wrote Esther Schlanger of the Chabad of Bakersfield.

In addition to lighting the menorah, Jews celebrate Hanukkah with enhanced services at the synagogue, special prayers and story-telling. Holiday foods include potato latkes, doughnuts and other foods cooked in oil. Gifts are given, especially Hanukkah gelt, or money (literally, "gold") to children, and acts of charity are encouraged.

Schlanger said the Chabad of Bakersfield is devoted to educating Jewish families about Jewish traditions, including stories that illustrate Jewish law, kosher laws governing the preparation and eating of food, prayers and prayer life, the Hebrew language, and many other aspects of Jewish observance. Schlanger said this support is very important, especially in towns like Bakersfield where there isn't a large Jewish population.

"Often, a child is the only Jewish child in their school," Schlanger said.

Schlanger said many Jews are unaffiliated with any kind of formal Jewish organization, making it easier to lose that identity. This is especially true for college students, many of whom stop practicing their faith once away from home, regardless of religious affiliation. Like many faiths, the Chabad movement has established centers at college campuses to combat that trend.

"We provide a place for college students to maintain their Jewish identity," Schlanger said.

Reservations are required for the Hanukkah Wonderland, and can be made by contacting the Chabad of Bakersfield at 835-8381 or rabbi@chabadofbakersfield.com by Dec. 7.