Tonight marks the first night of the eight-day festival of lights. Homes in Israel will light up the dark Kabbalat Shabbat night as Hanukkiot (menorahs) sit on the window ledges on the first night of Hanukkah. Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians and the rededication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in 164 BC, which was desecrated by Antiochus IV.
On this holiday, children receive Hanukkah gelt (money) as opposed to Jewish children of the Diaspora (living outside of Israel) who receive gifts every night of Hanukkah.
The hanukkiah menorah is a nine-branched candelabra. Eight of the candles, one for each night of Hanukkah, stand at the same height. The ninth candle is slightly taller and is called the shamash or servant candle because it is used to light the others. Each night of Hanukkah, an additional candle is lit, said with a special blessing.
The menorah symbolizes the burning of the oil lamps. When the temple was consecrated there was only enough oil for one night, but the oil lasted eight days, thus making it the miracle of Hanukkah.
Traditionally, Jews eat latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly filled donuts fried in oil).
Hanukkah serves as an Israeli national holiday as children receive a week off from school for the Hanukkah vacation and various large-scale Hanukkiot are displayed atop government buildings such as the Knesset (the Israeli parliament building).