Some call it eight crazy nights and others call it a festival of lights. Whatever you call it, Chanukah has arrived! As we light the first candle this Saturday, I decided that this week’s blog should be devoted to exploring the story of Chanukah’s and how its lessons remain relevant today..
The story of Chanukah is an amazing one. In 168 BCE, Syrian- Greek soldiers seized the Jewish Temple and dedicated it to the worship of Greek gods. This left the Jewish people without a place to pray together. Later, Antiochus, King of the Syrian-Greek Empire, proclaimed that observing Judaism was illegal and punishable by death. Consequently, the Jewish people were forced to convert. In one of these attempted conversions, Matthias, a High priest refused to cooperate and he and his sons rebelled against the soldiers, killing three of them. They fled to the mountains and created an armed resistance – known as the Maccabees – against the regime. Eventually, they succeeded in overthrowing King Antiochus and regained the Temple. While they were sanctifying the Temple, they only had enough oil to burn for one day. Miraculously, that small amount of oil lasted eight days – long enough for the temple to be rededicated. In order to commemorate this miracle, Jewish people around the world light their Chanukiah for 8 days during the holiday.
This heroic tale led me to consider two lessons embedded in the story. First, the lesson of standing up for religious freedom is universal. This story shows that repression of religion is unjust, and in the long run an unsuccessful method of governing. This story demonstrates that regardless of our culture, we should be allowed to practice whatever religion we desire without interference from the state. Second, the lighting of the hanukkiah has a symbolic message. This action symbolizes that “illumination from the dark” begins at home. That changing the status quo starts by illuminating those who are in the dark by bringing in light. It reinforces my strong belief that tolerance, understanding, and mutual respect start with leading by example.
Bringing people out of the dark is something that is especially resonant today: particularly in our community. Furthermore, this story led me to consider how our community still has to deal with anti-semitism across the globe that is rooted in the same hate that the Maccabees experienced centuries ago. This is exemplified today by the Protocols of Zion being read aloud in what is considered a modern liberal democracy. Or in other countries where tiny Jewish communities are blamed for societal and governmental failures. This conveys two fundamental truths. First, that despite our efforts to renounce hate, there is still a lot of work to be done. Secondly, as a community we have a duty to stand against intolerance, in all its ugly forms. It is our responsibility to illuminate the people in the dark and shed light on wrong doing wherever we see it.
In closing, this story resonated for me because of its core messages of standing up for your beliefs and refusing to live in the shadow of hatred. Furthermore, it speaks to the importance of the work CJPAC does — inspiring people to get involved and to stand up for their beliefs. I hope that this post served as an interesting perspective on what Chanukah means to me and to our community. On a personal note, next week’s blog will be my final one as the resident “Intern blogger”. It has been a great pleasure informing people on the great work CJPAC does and giving my opinion on important issues.
Until next time,