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Posted at 4:01 PM ET, 12/ 2/2010

Hanukkah (Chanukah?) news: Google celebrates, rabbi declares spelling confusion 'publicity stunt'

By Melissa Bell

Update: December 3, 12:00 p.m.

Ooo! It's not just Hanukkah that's getting the Google love. Christmas and Kwanzaa Google searches are also turning up decorated links.

December 2, 4:00 p.m.

The first candle is lighted; seven days to go in the Hanukkah countdown. To celebrate, Google has created a subtle nod to the holiday by changing its icons according to what you search for. Anyone who searches for Hanukkah or Chanukah will be rewarded with a dreidel icon in place of the Google logo.


Sam Michelson discovered the Hanukkah easter egg Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, I faced the age-old question: How do you correctly spell the holiday. The Post stylebook calls for it to be spelled "Hanukkah." However, going by crowd-sourced spelling, "Chanukah," "Hanukah," and "Chanukkah" are all right up there as terms searched for in Google.

So what is the correct spelling? A 2005 "All Things Considered" addressed this very question. They turned to Rabbi Daniel Zemel of the Temple Micah in Washington. "There's no uniformity in transliteration," he told the show. He ordered a steering committee at his synagogue to come up with a uniform spelling. They decided on: Chanukkah.

Five years later, I checked the Temple Micah Web site and found this announcement: "Hanukkah Lights Up Micah, Dec. 3 and Dec. 5."

What gives? Zemel told me over the phone, "It's a publicity stunt to pique interest and maybe if we're lucky, you'll ask, 'What is this Jewish holiday?' "

It's the ultimate notice-me move: "Where everything is tilting toward to Christmas, we have this annual confusion we trot out to add angst to the mix," Zemel laughed.

I asked what ever happened to his resolute steering committee's decision: "I was overruled." An editor in the congregation made the convincing push to adopt the spelling used by the Reform Jewish movement in North America. "Transliteration is an art, not a science," Zemel said.

However, if you do look to the Internet for answers, Hanukkah is outpacing the other terms in popularity. More people look each year for Hanukkah than any of the other spellings:

Still, "there are never ultimate answers to these great questions," Zemel said. "Why do the innocent suffer? Why is it so hard to reach the most puzzling ethical questions of our time? Why does Hanukkah have such a confusing spelling?"

The rabbi insisted I add that there is a serious side to the holiday. "The prayer read [at the lighting of the menorah] is, 'These lights are sacred; we can make no utilitarian use of them.' So much of our lives is practical and pragmatic, but the lights remind us that there is something loftier."

By Melissa Bell  | December 2, 2010; 4:01 PM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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