The days are short, and as such, we are quickly approaching the Jewish Festival of Lights known as Chanukah. I cannot help but think of the main mitzvah of Chanukah, to publicize the miracle, and its role this year. We are to light the Hanukiyah near our windows as close to dark as possible to assure the world will see us celebrating and commemorating the miracle that is Hanukkah.
But this year feels a bit different because some of us are feeling a bit more aware about being Jewish in public. With antisemitism growing and becoming more and more a real threat, it’s natural for more Jewish people to question what it means to outwardly demonstrate our commitments to Judaism.
The Hanukiyah is lit at the darkest time of the year, in part to demonstrate Jews do not do “dark…” but rather we bring “light” into the world. We seek to bring enlightened ideas and to lighten the loads on the afflicted in our midst. Chanukah is called “Chanukah” because it’s all about being dedicated to our Judaism and to the traditions of our people. It was on Chanukah when our ancestors rededicated the Temple after it had been desecrated.
So, what can we do this year? Antisemitism is not something we should ever allow to alter ourselves. When the world shows us ugliness and darkness, we must respond with beauty and light. When the world wants us to feel denigrated because of our faith and our people, we must lift ourselves up and hold our heads up with pride in our people.
In fact, the singular greatest responses to the bigots of the world are to rededicate ourselves to our Judaism. Imagine if we didn’t just merely light our menorot in our windows but chose to begin to light Shabbat candles as well. Imagine if we didn’t just choose to spin dreidels, but also chose to dedicate ourselves to Jewish learning as we move forward. Imagine if we didn’t just eat latkes, sufganiyot and burmuellos during Chanukah, but chose to keep kosher in some way to deepen our connectedness to G-d and our people. Imagine if this hatred could push us to love ourselves more than we did before.
If this Chanukah we could each begin to find ways to become more dedicated to the Jewish people and Judaism, then we can really find a reason to celebrate the light in the darkness of the world at this time of the year. Let’s all join together as we light and display our Hanukiyot this Chanukah and find ways to grow as Jews to show that no matter what they say or do, we’ll always be who we are and that’s the greatest light of all.
Rabbi Josh Hearshen is the rabbi at Congregation Or VeShalom.