Hanukkah Story Activities

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, is an eight day celebration that recalls how a small band of ancient Jews triumphed over their oppressors. Jewish families retell the story of the Maccabeans and their revolt against a Syrian king named Antiochus IV. Read the story (or watch a video about it) with kids 3-12 and then use one or more of these activities to explore the meaning of this religious holiday.

King Antiochus. The first Syrian king, Antiochus III, was happy to let the Jews practice their religion, but his son, Antiochus IV, ordered all the people to worship Greek gods instead. He killed people who disagreed with him and put an altar to Zeus inside the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Ask children: How would you feel if someone tried to make you do something you thought was wrong? How would you feel if someplace special to your family was taken away? How would you feel if your friends were being hurt because they disagreed with an unfair demand?

Fighting back. Judas Maccabee and his brothers lead the resistance movement against the king. They helped the Jewish people remove the altar to Zeus and rededicate the temple. Invite children to imagine that Judas Maccabee has asked them to join the fight against King Antiochus. Act out scenarios in which Judas makes the case for fighting back and the others respond with their reasons for joining the battle and what they will do to help.

Menorah light. The people wanted to relight the temple menorah but they only had enough oil for one day. They were surprised and delighted when the candle flames burned for eight days – long enough for them to obtain more oil. Encourage children to strike a pose showing how they would react to this unexpected event. Ask: How would your face look when you noticed the oil burning for a second day? How would you react on day 4? How about on day 8?

Religious freedom. Many people consider the freedom to practice one’s religion as a basic human right. There are still places in the world where people can be hurt or killed for their religious beliefs. With older children, research modern religious conflicts (see Related Resources). Compare them with the Hanukkah story and notice similarities and differences. Invite kids to brainstorm possible solutions to the conflicts.

Tasty remembrances. Families celebrate Hanukkah with deep-fried foods that recall the miracle of the oil lasting much longer than it should have. Invite children to retell the Hanukkah story in their own words while feasting on latkes (potato pancakes) or sufganiyot (jelly donuts). For extra fun, make your own treats from scratch, using a family recipe or one provided in the Related Resources.



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