Millions of Jews light first candle of Hanukkah, the ‘festival of lights’
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Millions of Jews light first candle of Hanukkah, the ‘festival of lights’

From terror-struck Paris to the halls of Israel’s government, from Boston to Budapest, Jews gather to commemorate and celebrate

  • Thousands participate in Chabad-Lubavitch's annual public menorah lighting ceremony at the base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Sunday December 6, 2015, the first night of Hanukkah. (Chabad.org/Thierry Guez)
    Thousands participate in Chabad-Lubavitch's annual public menorah lighting ceremony at the base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Sunday December 6, 2015, the first night of Hanukkah. (Chabad.org/Thierry Guez)
  • Rabbi Sholom Harlig prepares to light the menorah for the first night of Hanukkah at a makeshift memorial near the Inland Regional Center in the aftermath of a mass terror shooting that killed 14 people on Sunday, December 6, 2015 in San Bernardino, California. (AFP Photo/Patrick T. Fallon)
    Rabbi Sholom Harlig prepares to light the menorah for the first night of Hanukkah at a makeshift memorial near the Inland Regional Center in the aftermath of a mass terror shooting that killed 14 people on Sunday, December 6, 2015 in San Bernardino, California. (AFP Photo/Patrick T. Fallon)
  • An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man lights candles for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood on December 6, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man lights candles for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood on December 6, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • A large "Hanukkiya," or Hanukkah candelabra, made of recycled materials, in Jerusalem on December 06, 2015, on the first night of the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    A large "Hanukkiya," or Hanukkah candelabra, made of recycled materials, in Jerusalem on December 06, 2015, on the first night of the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Thousands participate in Chabad-Lubavitch's annual public menorah lighting ceremony at the base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Sunday December 6, 2015, the first night of Hanukkah. (Chabad.org/Thierry Guez)
    Thousands participate in Chabad-Lubavitch's annual public menorah lighting ceremony at the base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Sunday December 6, 2015, the first night of Hanukkah. (Chabad.org/Thierry Guez)
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government meeting beside a Hanukkah candelabrum marking the first night of the eight-day Jewish holiday, in Jerusalem, December 6, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government meeting beside a Hanukkah candelabrum marking the first night of the eight-day Jewish holiday, in Jerusalem, December 6, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
  • Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger dances with Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis at a public menorah lighting ceremony at the base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Sunday, December 6, 2015, the first night of the eight-day holiday. (Chabad.org/Thierry Guez)
    Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger dances with Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis at a public menorah lighting ceremony at the base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Sunday, December 6, 2015, the first night of the eight-day holiday. (Chabad.org/Thierry Guez)
  • Hanukkah celebrants dance and sing at Nyugati Square in Budapest, December 6, 2015, the first day of the eight-day festival. (AFP Photo/Attila Kisbenedek)
    Hanukkah celebrants dance and sing at Nyugati Square in Budapest, December 6, 2015, the first day of the eight-day festival. (AFP Photo/Attila Kisbenedek)
  • Two rabbis stand on a elevated platform as a giant eight-branched Hanukkah candelabrum is installed in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on December 4, 2015, two days before the start of the eight-day Jewish holiday. (AFP Photo/Tobias Schwarz)
    Two rabbis stand on a elevated platform as a giant eight-branched Hanukkah candelabrum is installed in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on December 4, 2015, two days before the start of the eight-day Jewish holiday. (AFP Photo/Tobias Schwarz)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lights the first candle of Hanukkah with Border Police officers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, December 6, 2015. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lights the first candle of Hanukkah with Border Police officers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, December 6, 2015. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)
  • Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker and other leaders participate in the Chabad-led Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony in Boston's Copley Square, on December 6, 2015 (Elan Kawesch/The Times of Israel)
    Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker and other leaders participate in the Chabad-led Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony in Boston's Copley Square, on December 6, 2015 (Elan Kawesch/The Times of Israel)
  • Hanukkah celebrants dance and sing at Nyugati Square in Budapest, December 6, 2015, the first day of the eight-day festival. (AFP Photo/Attila Kisbenedek)
    Hanukkah celebrants dance and sing at Nyugati Square in Budapest, December 6, 2015, the first day of the eight-day festival. (AFP Photo/Attila Kisbenedek)
  • People stand in front of a giant eight-branched Hanukkah candelabrum in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on December 6, 2015 at the start of the eight-day Jewish holiday. (AFP Photo/DPA/Jorg Carstensen)
    People stand in front of a giant eight-branched Hanukkah candelabrum in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on December 6, 2015 at the start of the eight-day Jewish holiday. (AFP Photo/DPA/Jorg Carstensen)

Millions of Jews around the world celebrated the start of the Jewish “festival of lights,” or Hanukkah, on Sunday night.

The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple after its desecration by the Seleucid Greek king Antiochus in 167 BCE.

But the holiday means many things to many different people.

Antiochus outlawed Jewish ritual, desecrated Jewish holy places and sought to strip the treasury of the Jewish community to serve his imperial ambitions. For some Jews, the successful rebellion led by the Jewish priestly Hasmonean family against this rapacious Seleucid imperialism serves as a universal symbol of freedom from oppression, and even of religious tolerance.

But the Hasmonean kingdom that ruled in the wake of the rebellion (until its fall under Roman rule) saw periods of forced conversions of non-Jews, among other less-than-liberal policies.

For some Jews, the rebels, known collectively as the Maccabees, are symbols not of universalism, but of Jewish pride, strength and self-reliance, especially in light of the oppressive, bloody Jewish experience of the 20th century.

For still others, the holiday is simply the celebration of light during the darkest days of the year. Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, which occurs around the month of December, when the days are shortest and the nights longest. The most famous miracle of the holiday is one of light, where the Temple’s candelabrum miraculously burned for eight days despite consuming only one day’s worth of oil.

This year, the holiday stretches from the evening of December 6 to the evening of December 14.

On the first night, Jews from around the world, from Boston to Jerusalem to Budapest, and even (or perhaps especially) in terror-struck Paris, lit the first candle and sang traditional Hanukkah songs, including the one that proclaims, “We have come to banish darkness/In our hands, light and fire/Each of us is a small light/But together, we are a mighty one!”

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