JERUSALEM - Israelis lit the first candle of Hanukkah last evening to begin the eight-day Jewish festival of lights, one of the country's most popular holidays.
Hanukkah, which features presents, jelly-filled doughnuts and potato pancakes, commemorates the rededication of the Jewish Second Temple in Jerusalem in 164 B.C. after its desecration by the Syrian Greeks. According to the story told to Jewish children, when the victorious force of Judah Maccabee tried to rekindle the Temple candelabra, or menorah, they found only one day's worth of olive oil. But tradition says the oil burned for eight days.
For many Jewish people, the holiday symbolizes their triumphs against great odds.
Observant Jews light the menorah each night to mark the holiday. More than 80 percent of Israeli Jews light candles every night, according to a survey conducted recently by the Motagim polling center.
Along with doughnuts, Israeli Jews eat large quantities of potato pancakes as part of the festivities. According to tradition, the pancakes are fried in olive oil, after the oil that lit the temple's candelabra.
Ahead of the holiday, Israeli newspapers carried suggestions on how to lose weight gained from all the fried food.
Jewish families in Israel are more modest in their Hanukkah celebrations than their American counterparts, who may feel an urge to compete with Christmas. Hanukkah bushes - an answer to Christmas trees in the United States - are very rarely seen in Israel.
While presents are given, often Israeli parents feel less compelled than American Jews to give a great number.
But for Jewish children in Israel, Hanukkah, which means dedication, is often the favorite holiday.
With no school, many cities put on festivals with dancing, music and plays for youngsters.
For the holiday, Jewish children in Israel are given four-sided tops, or dreidls, decorated with the letters that form the acronym "A great miracle happened here." Outside of Israel, the saying is "A great miracle happened there."
Jerusalem's mayor, Uri Lupolianski, lit a six-story menorah designed by artist David Soussana.
Workers built the huge candelabra by rappelling from the roof of city hall. *