Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why I Love Hanukkah

This is a re-post of a blog article I wrote last year that I wanted to share again.

This is now the fourth year that my little family and I have celebrated Hanukkah together, and I absolutely love it! Here are eight reasons why:

1. I love the history of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is different than most of the other "Jewish" holidays, because it is not one that was appointed by God. It is, however, full of meaning and historical significance. Here is a very brief history of Hanukkah:

The events we commemorate at Hanukkah took place around the year 164 B.C.E. There was a Syrian/Greek king in power over the land of Judea, who ordered the Jewish people to reject their God, their religion, their customs and their beliefs, and to worship the Greek gods, including defiling the holy Temple in Jerusalem with pagan idols and sacrilegious sacrifices. The penalty for disobeying was torture and death. There were many Jews who did what they were told, but some refused. One who courageously refused was Judah Maccabee. Judah and his four brothers, the grandchildren of the Temple high priest, formed a small army. They were miraculously successful in driving out the powerful Syrian Greeks, and they reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem. The Maccabees wanted to purify the Temple and to remove the hated Greek symbols and statues. On the 25th day of the month of Kislev, the job was finished and the Temple was rededicated.

Legend says that when Judah and his followers finished cleaning the Temple, they wanted to light the Eternal Light, the menorah. Once lit, this oil lamp should never be extinguished. Only one container of oil was found with the high priest's seal; only enough for one day. They went ahead and lit the lamp, and a miracle occurred as the tiny amount of oil stayed lit not for one day, but for eight days, which was the required amount of time to prepare new oil!

2. I love that Hanukkah is a celebration of light.

Hanukkah is called the "Festival of Lights", referring to the flames kindled each night, and the "Festival of Light" because of the victory of light over darkness. The menorah is the symbol for divine light. I love the fact that Jesus (Yeshua) proclaimed Himself to be the "Light of the World" in John 8:12. The menorah is a symbol of Yeshua, Light of the World!!! I think of this whenever I look at the hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah).

3. I love that Hanukkah is a celebration of miracles.
It was a miracle that the Maccabees triumphed over such a powerful force. I read that the opposing army even had elephants at their disposal! It was also a miracle that the oil lasted for eight nights instead of just one. In John (chapter 10), Yeshua was in the Temple during Hanukkah, and he spoke of the miracles He performed while here on earth. At Hanukkah we remember these miracles and the many miracles that God has chosen to perform throughout the Bible and throughout our own lives.

4. I love that Hanukkah is the Feast of Dedication.

"Hanukkah" means dedication. We remember the rededication of the Temple, and we remember that we are God's temple (I Cor. 3:16). Hanukkah can be a time to examine our lives and make sure we are not letting ungodly things in the "temple", and rededicate ourselves and our lives to God.

5. I love the food we eat at Hanukkah.

A holiday when we can eat foods fried in oil? YES! Yum! I love the jelly filled doughnuts and latkes...especially latkes!

6. I love the family traditions of Hanukkah.

We are developing our own family traditions during Hanukkah. We like to exchange a special gift each night. I love choosing just the right gift for each person. We try to have a special dinner or treat each night. We say the blessings, light the Hanukkah menorah and have a nice family night at home while the candles burn. This is a good reminder to us of what is important in our lives, as it can be a challenge in today's busy world to spend eight nights in a row at home with family.

7. I love that Hanukkah is an opportunity to shine!

Yeshua told his disciples "You are the light of the world." and "...let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matt. 5:14, 17). As a follower of Yeshua, I want to let my light shine for Him! Hanukkah presents a wonderful opportunity to do this. Many people don't even know what Hanukkah is, and when they find out we celebrate it, they want to know...so we tell them!

8. I love that Hanukkah lasts for eight nights.

We have eight nights to remember, rededicate ourselves, spend family time together, eat great food, open special gifts, and be encouraged to stand up for what we believe in and shine our light! I love Hanukkah!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Israel Adventure: Machane Yehuda, Israel Museum, and Tel Aviv

Our last day in Israel was bittersweet. We all loved being there so much, and we did not want to leave!

We packed up our things and said goodbye to our cozy apartment. Then we set out to find Machane Yehuda Shuk, which is a huge market in Jerusalem, where you can buy just about anything. Of course our GPS lost its signal, and we were quickly lost in Jerusalem again. By this time, after a week of repeatedly getting lost, we were a little more familiar with the crazy streets, so I decided we were going to find it "old school", using the map. It took us just a few minutes to find it.
Yehuda Machane
It was so much fun just wandering around the market in the hustle and bustle, enjoying all of the sights, sounds and smells. I especially loved the beautiful fruits and vegetables and the delicious smelling spices.
We had a yummy lunch of falafel wrapped in a pita with hummus, tomatoes, cucumber, pickles, some kind of delicious sauce, and even a few french fries thrown in. I think this is called a shawarma, but I'm not sure. It was SO good! Then we ate some chocolate rugelach (a crescent shaped, rolled up pastry) from "Marzipan". Yum!
Later we visited the Israel Museum, where we saw the model of Jerusalem and the Temple during the Second Temple Period. This is what the city looked like at the time of Jesus!
We also saw the "Shrine of the Book" where they keep the Dead Sea Scrolls. Cool!

We were too tired to go through the rest of the museum. I think the busy week had started to catch up with us! We decided to get back in the car and make our way to Tel Aviv. In Tel Aviv we found a place to park, walked around a bit and went to the beach.

Then we proceeded to get lost in Tel Aviv (due to the wonderful GPS again). We finally found the place to return our car, then rode the shuttle to the airport where we had a wait of a few hours ahead of us.

The girls, waiting at the airport
We really did not want to leave. Israel is such a special place, and we absolutely loved every minute of being there. It was a trip of a lifetime!
Exit sign in Hebrew.
The last photo we took in Israel

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Israel Adventure: Temple Mount Sifting Project and Tower of David

Just one more post after this one and I will be done telling you about our Israel adventure. I wish it could have gone on forever!

On the Wednesday of our trip, we had a reservation with the Temple Mount Sifting Project. This is an amazing archaeological project that allows volunteers to come in and help with the sifting. The project is a result of an illegal dig in the 1990s that took place on the Temple Mount. The rubble that was dug out was recovered and is being meticulously sifted for artifacts. The project is located on the Mount of Olives. After we arrived, they gave us a very interesting history lesson about Jerusalem and the Temple, and then instructed us on how to do the sifting and what we should be looking for. We dumped a bucket of muddy stuff onto a screen, rinsed it off, and began our search.
At first, everything looked like just a bunch of rocks!

But there were experts there to help us, and after a while we were able to start picking things out.
And then we actually found some things! Bits of pottery, square mosaic pieces, and bones were among our findings.  Haley and Rebecca found a piece of tile from the Byzantine period, and Robert and I found a piece of glazed pottery from the Crusade period, and a piece of stucco from the Second Temple period!

It was so much fun, and very exciting to find actual artifacts!

Later that day we went to the Tower of David Museum, near the Jaffa Gate. It was very interesting. There are exhibits both inside and outside. We stayed mostly inside because it was raining, but it was still well worth our time to go there.
Tower of David Museum

It was cold and rainy
Then we enjoyed wandering through the different quarters of the old city some more.

Mural in the Jewish Quarter

In the Christian Quarter
Then we warmed up with some delicious mochas at "Aroma". Not quite as good as Starbucks, but still very yummy! (And they give you a little chocolate bar with your coffee!)
It was another great day in Israel. Only one more to go.

Coming up next...Machane Yehuda, the Israel Museum, and Tel Aviv

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Israel Adventure: Masada and the Dead Sea

On Tuesday of our trip to Israel we drove South from Jerusalem to Masada. Masada is an ancient desert mountaintop fortress. It was built by Herod as a royal residence, and later used as a place of refuge for Jewish Zealots who had fled Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. Click here to read more about the story of Masada and see an aerial view.

We decided to take the "snake trail" and climb to the top! It is called the snake trail because it winds back and forth, back and forth until you finally get to the top.
We're ready to go!

Can you see the trail? It's much steeper than it looks in this photo!

View from partway up the trail

Robert on the trail

There's Rebecca! We're almost to the top!
Soon after starting up the trail, I realized that I am very out of shape! I truly thought I might die on that trail! It took us about an hour to climb to the top, except for Haley, who reached the top about 20 minutes before the rest of us!
Haley at the top

Resting at the top. We were SO tired!
We felt so accomplished (and very tired) when we finally made it! After a little rest, we explored the ruins of Masada and took in the beautiful views of the desert and the Dead Sea.

Beautiful view! Dead Sea in the distance.

Inside the remains of the synagogue
We took the cable car back down the mountain, had some lunch, and drove to Mineral Beach on the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is so salty that things (and people) just float in it! All you have to do is "sit" in the water and let your feet go up, and you're floating. It was a strange experience. After we floated, we spread the black mud on our skin. The mud is full of minerals, and it made our skin very soft.
Elevation (in meters)
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth!

Robert and the girls floating

Me and the girls floating

Black mud!
We felt very rejuvenated after our Dead Sea experience!

Coming up next...Temple Mount Sifting Project and Tower of David

Israel Adventures: Three Kings. David's City, Hezekiah's Tunnel, and Zedekiah's Cave

I'm having so much fun writing these posts and re-living the adventures we had in Israel!

On the Monday morning of our trip, we took the City of David tour. This the original site of the City of David, the capital of the tribes of Israel, over 3,000 years old. They are doing excavations there, and have found what they believe to be David's home/castle, and much, much more.
City of David Tour

Oren was our tour guide
The tour took us underground to the Gihon Spring, where we then had the option to go through Hezekiah's Tunnel. This is King Hezekiah's 2,700 year old water tunnel that leads to the Pool of Shiloah. We walked through it, in the dark (with little flashlights) in knee to thigh deep water. It took about 25 minutes. We felt like Indiana Jones! Some of the tunnel was pretty low and a tight squeeze, and I bumped my head a few times, but it was SO much fun! 
Map of Hezekiah's Tunnel

Inside the tunnel (lit by the camera flash) It was completely dark.

Yay! We made it through!

You can see how high the water was on our jeans!
After that exciting tour, we had some lunch at a cute little restaurant while we dried off. Then we went to Zedekiah's Cave.  This is a place that is not very widely known to tourists, but I did my research and found out about it online before we left. Legend says that this is where Zedekiah, (the last king of Judah) hid from the Babylonians who were sent by Nebuchadnezzar to besiege Jerusalem. It is also known as "Solomon's Quarries", and it is believed to be the place from where the huge stones to build the second temple were taken. This place is huge, and it goes under at least a 5 block area of the old city, and it is just a "remnant" of what it used to be! You can actually see the chisel marks where they carved out the stones. The cave is also rumored to be part of the route that Jeremiah took the Ark of the Covenant to its hiding place!
Entrance to Zedekiah's Cave
This place is huge!
Deep inside the cave
While we were deep inside the cave, we were able to see a special family gathering that a Jewish family was having there. The music of the violin and guitar echoed through the cave chambers, and it felt very special to be there.
Jewish family inside Zedekiah's Cave
Coming up next...Climbing to Masada and Floating in the Dead Sea!