While Christians are making preparations for Christmas, Jews are well into the holiday known as Chanukah (also spelled Hanukkah). Many non-Jews know of Chanukah; even though it’s a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, much ado is made of it because of its close proximity to Christmas. Here’s a short description of Chanukah from www.chabad.org……….
Chanukah — the eight day festival of light begins on the eve of Kislev 25 — celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, over purity of adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.
More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and rededicated it to the service of G-d. When they sought to light the Temple’s menorah, they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks: miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.
To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting, a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled.
On Chanukah, we also recite Hallel and the Al HaNissim prayer to offer praise and thanksgiving to G-d for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the wicked into the hands of the righteous.”
Chanukah customs include eating foods fried in oil - latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts); playing with the dreidel (a spinning top on which are inscribed the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei, and shin, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, “a great miracle happened there;” and the giving of Chanukah gelt, gifts of money, to children (www.chabad.org).
It’s difficult to light all eight candles this year as I am thankfully employed. However, my heart is joined with the Jewish people everywhere as we recognize God’s providence in our lives, while remaining a curiosity to the world around us. We in turn choose to remain curious about the world around us as well, but in a way so as to learn how we might be an extension of God’s hand on the earth to repair the world and humanity. The lights of the menorah remind me of optimism and holding on to the promise of spring and longer days not too far from now. As Christians recognize the miracles their faith brings, Jewish people do as well within the tapestry of Judaism. Each day is a good day to remember the blessings and lessons life bring.
Jews are cautious about how Chanukah is framed because of the militaristic aspects of the narrative and reality. A dear friend of mine who’s in rabbinical school reminded a class of children he taught at the synagogue one time that we must remember the miracle of the light but also remember it’s the celebration of a military victory. When people justify military and use of force over the long term, over many generations we run the risk of losing our humanity and perspective to lust for power and military might.
Another good friend taught me a neat phrase when it comes to Chanukah and just about every other Jewish holiday - “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” This is what I’ve come to appreciate about a Jewish sense of humor; irony mixed with traditions and observance. Our holidays are a part of what keeps us cohesive as a people. The quote I will finish this article with summarizes my impressions and existence within Judaism:
“If we were forced to choose just one, there would be no way to deny that Judaism is the most important intellectual development in human history.”