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How Hanukkah relates to religious freedom
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Hanukkah began on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 6, and will conclude on Monday, Dec. 14. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Jews around the world gathered Sunday evening for the start of Hanukkah, an eight-day celebration of their faith and religious freedom.

Each night during the holiday, Jews light a candle on their menorah to commemorate their forefathers' victory in a war that took place more than 2,000 years ago. Around the year 165 B.C., Jewish leaders rose up against the Syrian branch of the Alexandrian Empire that threatened to destroy their faith.

As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks noted in a piece for The Washington Post that the ancient conflict resonates with modern efforts to uphold religious liberty around the world.

"Tragically, that fight is no less important today, and not only for Jews, but for people of all faiths," he wrote.

He related the ancient Jews' struggle to ongoing Christian suffering in the Middle East and in Africa and condemned Islamic extremists around the world.

Similarly, President Obama used the beginning of Hanukkah as an opportunity to reflect on the evils of religious persecution.

"At its heart, Hanukkah is about the struggle for justice in the face of overwhelming obstacles. It's a chance to reflect on the triumph of liberty over tyranny, the rejection of persecution and on the miracles that can happen even in our darkest hours," the president said in his statement on the holiday.

It took around three years of fighting for the Jews to reclaim their land from the ruling empire, and the community celebrated by rededicating the temple in Jerusalem, as Rabbi Sacks noted. These celebrations lasted for eight days, and required a holy fire, which remained lit in spite of a shortage of oil. The menorah-lighting ritual recreates this miracle.

Although Hanukkah is likely the most well-known Jewish holiday it actually holds less significance than many of the religion's other holy days, such as Yom Kippur. Most Jews will mark the week with candle-lighting and eating traditional foods, but they won't be expected to fast or observe Sabbath rules like limiting the use of technology.

"Other celebrations include giving gifts in celebration and placing the menorah in the front window so that people will be reminded of the miracle" of the holiday, International Business Times reported.

Hanukkah ends on the evening of Monday, Dec. 14.
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