The eternal message of Chanukah is that light can dispel darkness. Chanukah means rededication, as the Second Temple was rededicated with the kindling of the menorah. Chanukah also shares a linguistic root with chinuch (education). The obvious link is that we must rededicate ourselves to Jewish education and our Jewish identities.
One lesson that seems especially relevant today is that the answer to antisemitism is not assimilation. Attempts to assimilate in hopes of avoiding being targeted as a Jew didn’t work during the Spanish Inquisition towards Maranos, nor to those with even only one Jewish grandparent in Nazi Germany. It has not worked at any time in history. The answer to antisemitism is to be more knowledgeable in, and proud of, our Judaism. We are blessed to live in the United States with constitutionally protected freedom of religion. Public menorah lightings reaffirm this right and the victory of light over darkness.
Another lesson is that we cannot and should not rely on others to protect us, physically or spiritually. Considered a major victory for religious freedom, the story of Chanukah was championed by a small group of freedom fighters, known as the Maccabees, who defeated the larger and more powerful wicked Greek Hellenists. Many righteous gentiles have helped the Jewish people over the years, and we should be grateful; however, to ultimately survive and thrive, we must protect ourselves.
Antisemitism and violence against Jews have skyrocketed over the past few years. FBI Director Christopher Wray acknowledged a few weeks ago that the Jewish community is under threat from all sides: “Not only have they long been a target of foreign terrorist organizations…but then, in addition to that, they’re of course the target of domestic violent extremists.”
More than 2,100 years ago, the Maccabees fought these same battles. As we prepare for this year’s Chanukah, we are reminded that we must remain ever vigilant and be proactive in having the will and means to protect ourselves in our homes, businesses, schools, clubs and houses of worship.
In this year of Hakhel, which occurs once every seven years, and especially in the recent post-COVID environment, we should redouble our efforts to gather together with old friends and new in the spirit of brotherhood and in promoting Jewish unity.
Mitchell Kaye is serving his second tour in the Georgia House of Representatives, representing East Cobb and parts of Sandy Springs, after finishing five terms almost 20 years ago. Together, with his wife, Amy, they have three children and three grandchildren.