1st night of Hanukkah draws mixed emotions in wake of ongoing Israel-Hamas war

Whether young at heart – or just young – Hanukah means "joy and happiness."

On Thursday, FOX 11 visited a group of 9-year-old students at Gindi Maimonides Academy’s Jewish Day School.

"The history is we were persecuted for our religion," Rabbi David Mahler said. 

That’s why Rabbi Mahler says we remember the story of a small band of soldiers - The Macabees – who didn't give up when fighting the Syrian Greeks. 

"They banded together and even though they were not as strong and not as numerous they had a lot of faith and a lot of grit, a lot of relentlessness and they fought for the Jewish people… and won," Rabbi Mahler said.

There is also the story of how a small can of oil miraculously showed up in a temple "and, it lasted.. it was a miracle," says 9-years-old Noa Braun. 

She loves this holiday. Her mother, Michal, does too – although she's not happy that it comes at a time of conflict. 

"I'm Israeli. I was born in Israel. I have a lot of family in Israel right now for me it's a day-to-day struggle," Braun said.

On this Hanukkah, she thinks about her family and the brother of a close friend who was kidnapped and still currently being held hostage in Gaza.

This is a time that's supposed to be a time of joy that brings out the kid in all of us that reminds of a biblical story and long held traditions. But this year it’s packed with complications for the Brauns. 

"My heart breaks when I think about him. My heart breaks when I'm thinking about his 3-year-old boy at home who just wants his father home to light candles with and sing with and dance with," Michal said.

But, she says, it's hard to see the joy of her daughter and classmates and think of people like her friend's brother. 

"But, for the children we do what we can. We want to keep them sheltered. We want to keep them happy and have that innocence and have that special time," she adds.

That aside, Braun's daughter knows about the war and hostages and worries about them.

"It's definitely tough. Its definitely not easy, but that’s the story of the Jewish People. There are ups and downs. There's times of great victory," said Rabbi Mahler. "There's times of great persecution but we celebrate all the time."

It’s, as the Rabbi says, a time to bring light to the world despite the darkness.