The Season of Jewish Pride
Our celebration of Chanukah has, in our day taken on some of the Christmas season’s trappings. The decorations and emphasis on gift giving are a direct result of the Jewish festival’s annual celebration in the month of December, and the Jew’s good fortune to practice our faith in freedom. Far from a bad thing, as who doesn’t love a great theme party? In truth, the story of Chanukah and its celebrations emphasize the Jewish mindset to be different, to not blend in, and to assert our Jewish Pride.
In 167 BCE, Antiochus came to power over lands which included the area we know as Israel. He forced the people to Hellenize, which meant outlawing Jewish practices (i.e.brit milah, Shabbat and kashrut) and taking on the worship of Greek Gods and sacrificing pigs in the Temple. There were Jews who assimilated, and took on the Hellenistic (Greek) practices. Others, including the Maccabbees, were adamantly opposed to Hellenization, and in fact took up arms, revolted against the Greek Army and Antiochus. They persevered against great odds, until they were victorious and able to recapture the Temple, clean it out and rededicate it to G-d.
Kindling the Chanukiah is the central ritual of Hanukkah. We celebrate the miracles of the victory of the Israelites over the Greeks and that the small vial of oil lit in the Temple lasted for 8 days. One custom is that we take our lit Chanukiah and place it in the window for all to see, to ‘pirsum hanes’, to publicize the miracle. In doing so, we proclaim loudly our joy at the miracle of our people’s survival, as well as our deep pride in our being Jewish.
The holiday of Chanukah reminds us that we are a minority, living within a majority culture, with practices and beliefs that are different from the mainstream. Living as a Jew in a non-Jewish world demands effort, and sometimes perseverance. Our holy days don’t always fall on a convenient weekend, and time bound mitzvoth such as brit milah and kevurah (burial) are scheduled when they must occur, without concern for convenience. In America, we are free to “go against the grain”, as we give expression to our faith.>
Many cultures celebrate a Winter Solstice Festival, and Chanukah is ours. We count on those 8 nights of candles to bring us warmth and light in the midst of the dark and cold of December. More than just illuminating the darkness, the lights of Chanukah remind of our strength as a people to overcome those who would destroy us, and that our faith requires practices that set us apart from our neighbors. These differences are a source of pride and strength, as they allow us to share our gifts with the world. In so doing, we fulfill the Jewish mission be an or l’goyim, a light unto the nations.
May this be a season of pride, joy and fulfillment for all. Chag Urim Sameach… Happy Chanukah!