In addition to commemorating milestone events in the history of the Jewish people, our holidays convey important values. Passover, for example, recalls the Biblical exodus from Egypt, and emphasizes God’s concern for the oppressed and — by extension — our responsibility to care for them. Hanukkah also has two aspects. Historically, it recalls a specific series of events that culminated in the defeat of the army Syrian Greek King Antiochus around 165 BCE, and the subsequent renewal and rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
More broadly, Hanukkah is about religious freedom, a core value of our own country, one that inspired the founders of the United States and is enshrined in our constitution.
The Maccabees rose up against a government that sought to impose a single religion on all of its citizens. Instead of seeing religious and cultural diversity as a source of strength, the Greeks sought to quash it. With God’s help, they were defeated and our people were able to continue serving God as their ancestors did.
The ancient story we recall on Hanukkah continues to be relevant in America today, where have witnessed a series of incidents in which people have been murdered in places of worship. A year ago, a gunman entered the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and opened fire. By the time he was finished, 26 people were killed and 20 were wounded. Last month, it was a synagogue. A man with an AR-15 assault rifle entered the sanctuary of the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh, Pa., and opened fire, killing 1l and wounding six.
There are those who say that such tragedies are inevitable, and that we can do little to stop them. Hanukkah teaches us that it isn’t true. The Maccabees fought a powerful enemy and won. We can follow their example working together to create a society where such crimes are far more rare than they are today. We can all be candles in the darkness, shining our light on prejudice and hatred; joining together to expose and eliminate them.
Warmflash is the spiritual leader of the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre.