In the second century BCE, a small group of courageous Jews rose up against their oppressors who had outlawed Jewish rituals and freedom of worship. Upon victory, the small group of freedom fighters re-dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem and re-lit the lamp in the Temple. There was only enough oil for the flame to burn for one night, but miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. Some 1,500 years ago, the Rabbis of the Talmud mandated that the Hanukkah menorah be placed in public view, so that any passersby would be reminded of the miracles of Hanukkah.
Today, and over the eight nights of Hanukkah, which began this year on the evening of Dec. 2, Jews celebrate that miracle and the blessing of religious freedom. Whether a Hanukkah menorah is in the window of a private home, or in the town square, it is not simply an expression of one community’s religious devotion. It is a statement about the kind of America in which we all wish to live — a country that cherishes the cultural richness of its roots and celebrates the diversity of its people. Hanukkah celebrations reinforce the idea that, even in our diversity, all people are deserving of dignity, liberty and justice.
Each night as we light the Hanukkah candles, we remember that as God’s partners in creation, we are all responsible for making the world as it ought to be. In sharing light of the candles, we share our hope for a better world. Another name for Hanukkah is Chag Urim, which means “Festival of Lights.” So Chag Urim Sameach (Happy Festival of Lights), and as we approach the New Year, may it be a healthy and happy one for all of us.
Bellush is the spiritual leader of Temple Am Echad, in Lynbrook.