Rabbi Levi Duchman of the United Arab Emirates lighting a Menorah in his home the UAE (December 2019)
Rabbi Levi Duchman of the United Arab Emirates lighting a Menorah in his home the UAE (December 2019) Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Muslims have Eid and Christians have Christmas and the Jewish community celebrates Hanukkah.

Hanukkah, which is also known as the Festival of light, is celebrated by Jewish people around the world for eight nights. They light candles, eat latkes, and spin dreidels

This year's Hanukkah, which starts on Thursday heralds a significant era for the Jewish community in the UAE.

“I have been celebrating Hanukkah for six years in the UAE,” Rabbi Levi Duchman of the United Arab Emirates told Gulf News. “I am the first rabbi to live here and to see the growth of the community and being able to celebrate a religious holiday this way, is so exciting.” 

hanukkah in dubai
Rabbi Levi Duchman has been celebrating Hanukkah in Dubai for the past six years. This photo was taken in 2019 as he celebrated with friends and family in Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied by Rabbi Levi Duchman

This year the Jewish Community Centre in Dubai have a lot of special events planned for Hanukkah, which include programmes for both children and adults. “We also want to involve the wider community, not just those of the Jewish faith,” said Duchman.

“The message behind Hanukkah is to spread light over darkness. And I see the UAE as the brightest light in this region.” Rabbi Duchman explains that this year they expect to host thousands of Jews from all over the world including Israel, the US and Europe.

“Over the next eight days and we will be celebrating all over Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” the Rabbi said. Events are expected to take place at the Jewish Community Centre, in Downtown Dubai, at various offices across the city and many more venues yet to be announced.

A brief history

The Hebrew word Hanukkah, which means dedication is basically a ‘Festival of Lights’. It is celebrated as a commemoration for a miracle that took place back in 165 BCE when the Greek empire was the ruling power in Jerusalem. They outlawed Jewish practices and destroyed the Jewish Temple and instead put up an altar to Zeus Olympios.

The Jews fought back against this religious persecution and regained control over the temple. They removed the symbols of Zeus and built a new Jewish altar. The reason Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days is that the temple’s menorah, an important ritual object, had enough oil in it to burn for one day, but it ended up lasting them for eight days.

This is known as the Miracle of Hanukkah and that is why the celebration lasts eight nights.


What is a Menorah


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One of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith is the menorah, a seven-branched candelabra. The nine-branched menorah is used in Hanukkah to symbolise the miracle that a day's worth of oil for this menorah lasted eight days. 

How is Hanukkah celebrated today?

Surprisingly Hanukka isn’t the biggest Jewish festival. Passover is a much more widely celebrated holiday, but Hanukkah is more prominent in pop culture, like in films and TV shows.

Modern Jewish families celebrate the festival by lighting candles on a menorah. One candle per night for eight nights from right to left. During Hannukah, they play dreidel games.

What is a Dreidel?

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A dreidel is a spinning toy that has four sides, each with Hebrew letters, signifying the rules of the game. A dreidel gets spun and depending on which side it lands on, people have to eat certain foods. Specifically, foods that are fried in oil. These include things like ‘sufganiyot’ a sweet snack that is similar to a jelly doughnut and latkes, which are fried potato pancakes.

What is the food commonly eaten during Hanukkah?

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Hanukkah has customary foods. These foods are mostly fried in oil, to acknowledge the miracle of the oil that lasted them eight days. These foods include the aforementioned latkes and sufganiyot as well as kugel, which is a casserole made commonly with potatoes or noodles and gelt, which are chocolate coins.

When exactly is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah 2020 will begin in the evening of Thursday, December 10, 2020 and ends in the evening of Friday, December 18, 2020. The dates of Hanukkah change every year. Each year, Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of Kislev, which is the ninth month of the Jewish calendar.