Learn About the Story of Hanukkah with Shalom Sesame

The Hanukkah story teaches about the Maccabee family’s commitment to their faith and their pride in being Jewish. The Hebrew word hanukkah (also spelled chanukah) means “dedication”, and the story of the Maccabee struggle ends with the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the rekindling of the golden menorah.

That same menorah, together with olive branches, is the symbol of the State of Israel. The olive is one of the Seven Species of the Land of Israel and plays a prominent role in the Hanukkah story. The central customs and food traditions of Hanukkah are connected to the olive oil that is said to have lasted for eight days.

Together with your children, watch these Shalom Sesame videos to learn about the story of Hanukkah. Then try some of the discussion ideas and activities recommended by Reform Jewish educators to further extend the lessons learned in the videos. 


  • From darkness into light: The rededication of the Temple and the lighting of the menorah symbolize the end of a period of darkness for the Jewish people. After lighting the Hanukkah candles, talk about the concepts of light and darkness: what are they? How do they make us feel? What might be the reason that the first thing created in the Torah was light?
  • The meaning of the menorah: Why do you think the menorah was so important in the Hanukkah story? Why do you think that lighting the hanukkiyahhanukkiyahחֲנֻכִּיָּהNine-branched candelabra used during Hanukkah – eight branches for each night of the holiday, plus another branch (often taller, central, or more prominently displayed) for the shamash (helper) candle, which is used to light the others. is the central ceremony of the festival? What’s different about the menorah that stood in the Temple and the menorah we light on Hanukkah today? Why do you think the menorah and olive branch are symbols of the State of Israel?
  • Taking on new challenges: The video below illustrates all of the hard work the Jews and Maccabees had to do in order to repair their special space, the Temple. Ask your children to think about a time when they put a lot of effort into a project with a challenging goal, like cleaning up a big mess or working hard to ride a bike. Were they intimidated by the task at hand? Did they do it by themselves? How did they feel when they were done?


  • Family pride: The story of Hanukkah is also the story of the Maccabee family, how they worked together to protect their community, and their pride in being Jewish. Try this: With your child, create a portfolio of stories about your family. What makes your child proud to be part of your family?
  • Make your own temple: Learn about the Temple in Jerusalem, and where the golden menorah stood. Children can build a Temple and/or a menorah with blocks or other construction and art materials and reenact the Hanukkah story. Together, think about what materials you might use, what needs to be done, how to make the menorah golden, and other related questions. Once you’ve built your own Temple, you can photograph or film your group’s version of the story.

Watch: Extreme Makeover, Temple Edition

This parody of the old television show explains how the Maccabees returned to the Temple after their battle, cleaned the building, and reclaimed the space for the Jewish people.

Watch: Family Matters

Veronica Monica reports the Hanukkah story.

For more Shalom Sesame videos, activities, and other materials, visit our friends at ShalomSesame.org.