Chanukah is also known by the name “Hag ha-Urim,” the Festival of Light. Yet, despite that name, we Jews have not yet taken to bedecking our homes in strings of lights like our Christian neighbors often do. At least, not in large numbers. For us, the light we share is the simple glow of the candles in our hanukiah.
The rabbis teach us in the Talmud that we are to put the hanukiah in the window for the purpose of “parsumei nisa,” advertising or proclaiming the miracle that took place in the time of the Maccabees. And in words that are increasingly relevant in our day, the Talmud continues: “in a time of danger, place the hanukiah on your table and that is sufficient.”
These days, the Jewish community increasingly feels as if we are living in such a “time of danger” as described by the Talmud. Kanye, the growing demonization of Israel, and the harassment of Jewish students on college campuses are constant reminders. So, in today’s climate of growing antisemitism, that simple, spiritual act of lighting our hanukiah is not only an act of Jewish pride, but perhaps even an act of defiance!
The light of the hanukiah is profoundly needed today as we feel darkness creeping into our lives at so many turns. Jewish organizations struggle to understand the “why” of antisemitism, believing that if we could just educate people and show them our values, then perhaps they wouldn’t hate us.
So why does this small people command such attention? I think it is because we stand out. Wherever you look you see Jewish people standing out front. We are not bystanders. Even Volodymir Zekensky is Jewish. (And if you were to have told your grandparents or great-grandparents decades ago that the president of Ukraine would be a Jew, they would have said you’re absolutely out of your mind.)
Despite the sense of vulnerability, studies have clearly shown that Jews remain highly regarded among American group identities. It’s not as if we’re suddenly alone, isolated, and friendless. The Jewish community has lived its values as champions of social justice and have been friends and supporters to other beleaguered communities in America over the decades. Real friendship works both ways…and, thankfully, we still see that it often does.
While we work tirelessly to perpetuate those values, Chanukkah reminds us that we cannot forget the three-legged stool that the Jewish world has always stood upon, namely God, Torah, and Israel. How we light THAT flame is going to be the key to OUR survival as a people.
So let us light our hanukiah and show our Jewish pride. Let us practice our faith and celebrate our traditions with the same passion and zeal with which our neighbors celebrate theirs.
Rabbi Mark Zimmerman is senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Dunwoody, Ga.