Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate! I am so pleased to have a whole slew of Hanukkah-themed books to review for the week, tho I gotta say that it is sometimes really weird talking about books centered on religion when you’re as quasi-religious as I am.
I decided to start this slate with the most directly-themed of the books I received. The Story Of Hanukkah is an easily accessible way for young kids to understand the origins of the holiday. It skips over dates but gets oddly specific with places, as it talks about how Jewish people in Jerusalem used to pray at the beautiful Temple that housed an ever burning light known as the ner tamid. After the Greek ruler Antiochus IV ascended the throne, he outlawed important aspects of Judaism. Mattathias, an old priest, led a revolt against Antiochus IV, hiding in the hills and performing guerilla tactics against the invading army. His son Judah HaMakabi succeeded him, and their followers became known as Maccabees.
After finally defeating the Greeks, the Maccabees returned to Jerusalem to find their Temple defiled. While they cleaned and rededicated the premises, they worried that there was only one small jar of consecrated oil left for the ner tamid. It would only last for one day… but a miracle allowed the lamp fueled by this jar to continue burning for seven, after which newly pressed oil was available to keep the light burning.
To celebrate this miracle, as well as the rededication ceremony of the Temple, Judah declared an eight day feast of lights that eventually became known as Hanukkah. Modern celebrations include the consumption of food fried in oil, the exchange of gifts and the playing of dreidel. This picture book also includes a recipe for potato latkes (yum!) as well as rules for dreidel. I hadn’t realized that the latter is essentially a gambling game until I read this, lol.
While I really enjoyed the parts about celebrating and rededication, I have to admit that the anti-war part of me did not love the focus given to the battles between the Greeks and the rebel Jews. I get it, it’s history, and hopefully this story inculcates in readers the fact that brave freedom fighters attempting to overthrow an oppressive state are hardly ever the (only) bad guys. And as a primer for young readers interested in learning more, this is a more than adequate introduction to the origins of the holiday. It certainly led this older reader to look up more on the subject!
Jill Weber’s illustrations are an interesting throwback to classical friezes, particularly in the scenes of conflict. I only wish I had the time to try out the latke recipe, but will have to make up for it by ordering extra latkes with apple sauce and sour cream the next time I go to my favorite Jewish deli.
The Story Of Hanukkah by David A. Adler & Jill Weber was published January 1 2011 by Holiday House and is available from all good booksellers, including