As I sit here writing, snow is falling on the back quarter out my office window. Reno has turned to gray and white, and I can feel, despite the clouds, that sunset is coming soon. Winter is here, without a doubt, and Chanukah arrives precisely when our need for light is greatest, both literally and figuratively.
The story of the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days is a late one, not appearing in our tradition until the Talmud. The earliest story of Chanukah is that of the battle between the Jewish Hasmoneans (like Judah Maccabee) and the Seleucid Greeks. The Greeks were of the opinion that their culture was the pinnacle of civilization, and outlawed “barbaric” practices, like the ones the Jews were observing. The final straw was when the Greeks came in and began desecrating the Temple in Jerusalem with pig slaughters. The Hasmoneans rose up and fought the much larger Greek army, running them out of the Temple and rededicating the Temple to kosher sacrifices.
We here at Sinai give off so much light year-round. We volunteer, we show up for each other, we sing, and we celebrate. We shine just as bright in our community, where we are an integral part of interfaith organizations and non-profits. Chanukah is the perfect time to rededicate ourselves to something equally important – to being proud of who we are as Jews. To being proud, not just of the things we do with other faith groups and civic-minded people, but of the very particular things we do as Jews.
Some of us keep kosher, or restrict our diets because we are Jews. Some of us hang mezuzot on our doors, telling our neighbors and passers-by that we are Jewish. We give our children Hebrew names, teach them our history, and light candles. And even more of us take time out of our lives to show up at temple, meet with friends and family, and celebrate being Jewish in community week in and week out. Chanukah is the perfect time to rededicate ourselves to singing loudly and proudly about how we are Jewish, and how being Jewish means being different in a wonderful and valuable way.
Chag urim sameach, and may your Chanukah be warm and bright.
Rabbi Sara Zober