On Chanukah (which begins at sundown on December 12 this year) Jews recall the miraculous victory of the Maccabees and their small, but determined, forces over the powerful Greek-Syrian armies in the second century B.C.E. After the victory, the Maccabees cleaned and rededicated their temple, which gave the holiday its name—Chanukah means “rededication.” This was accomplished thanks to the miracle of a tiny jar of oil that normally lasted for one night, but kept the light over the Holy Ark burning for eight nights until more could be obtained.
The holiday is traditionally celebrated by lighting candles for eight days. Fried foods like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (a type of jelly doughnut) are enjoyed. There is dancing and games that carry an important message. The most popular of these is dreidel, a top with four sides. On each side is a Hebrew letter that stands for nes gadol hayeh sham, “A great miracle happened there.” Players put in their gelt (chocolate coins wrapped in foil) and spin the dreidel. The letter that lands on top tells players whether they've won or lost. That game with those letters were changed after 1948. Since the return of Jews to their historic homeland after 2,000 years of exile, the last letter on the dreidel was changed to nes gadol hayeh po: A great miracle happened here.
As with all holidays, on Chanukah, Jews address their current status and examine the classical texts to see what relevance and guidance we can find.
Pondering the meaning of the holiday, also known as The Festival of Lights, I think about the light of freedom, the light of brotherhood and compassion for our fellow humans—and I wonder as I look around our great country and see so much darkness, anger, and hatred of anyone who doesn’t look or speak like us.
How did so many of us succumb to blow out the lights of truth and replace them with alternate facts, alt-right and alt-truth? I tremble as I consider the similarity to what happened in Germany in the 1930s.
How did America allow a few people with great wealth and power to douse the lights of caring, sharing, protecting our neighbors and convince us that the old virtue of loving our neighbors as ourselves must be eradicated? I watch as the darkness gives cover to leaders who lie, cheat, steal and abuse.
Can we kindle the lights of sanity once again? I say we must. The world depends on it. Chanukah, The Festival of Lights, is the time to proclaim resistance to demagoguery and a worship of false idols.
The special message of the Chanukah this year 5778 and 2017 is clear: RESIST TYRANNY!