This month, as we celebrate Chanukah, an ancient story of Jewish strength and resilience, it clearly has significant lessons and meaning in modern times. These days, due to its December celebration, Chanukah has been conflated with Christmas as a holiday celebrated by gift giving and winter themes.
In reality, Chanukah is a celebration of overcoming oppression, resisting assimilation and maintaining our Jewish identity against all odds. Today, and especially since the October 7 Simchat Torah massacre in Israel, we must continue to be vigilant in our efforts to combat the tremendous increase (almost 400%) in antisemitism. I am reminded of Bari Weiss’s comments, “There are many forces in our world trying to insist, once again, that ‘all Jews must die.’ But there is a force far, far greater than that. And that is the force of who we are.” Her answer as to how to combat antisemitism was … to be Jewish, to practice Judaism, celebrate culturally being Jewish and to just be Jewish in our own way.
There are many ways to “just be Jewish.” We retell individual stories of heroism throughout the Chanukah story: the strength of Judah Maccabee, the ingenuity and beauty of Judith, the devout piousness of Hannah and her seven sons. The bravery of these people has been reflected by those directly impacted in the pogrom of October 7. The father, Roy Edan, who tried to protect his child, 4-year-old Abigail Mor Edan, with his own body. Or mother, Shiri Bibas, and the courage and bravery she displayed while being kidnapped with her two redheaded babies, Ariel, 4 years old, and Kfir, the youngest hostage taken, at 9 months old. And then there is the safe return against many odds of other children, elderly women, foreign workers delivered from captivity to freedom whose battle to recover will be the long road ahead of them. The miracle of Chanukah lies in the strength of a small, but mighty, Jewish community.
It is within our own community that we can convey light, showing up for one another and being present in Jewish spaces and for our “family” in Israel: our prayer vigil; solidarity rally in Washington, D.C.; placing ads in our local newspapers; calling our elected officials; hosting educational programs for our teens as well as a series for community members; PJ Library events; holiday celebrations; and raising Israel emergency funds for the magnitude of needs yet to come.
According to Steven Weitzmann, director of the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, “Chanukah is a holiday about hope. It’s a holiday about survival.” “And in this very dark period, which is still ongoing and feels hopeless to a lot of people, it’s about the possibility of finding light again in the most profound periods of darkness.”
Our desire to provide light and an ongoing presence is what strengthens our identity and allows us to maintain our Jewish heritage, fighting forces of antisemitism by simply being. Let us bring light at these dark times and embody it within our own community this season, standing up in the face of antisemitism and speaking out for Israel and other communities who continue to experience oppression today.
It is in our small but mighty Lehigh Valley Jewish community that we find our strength as we celebrate the Festival of Lights together and rededicate ourselves to fighting hatred and antisemitism wherever it occurs.
Together, let’s bring light to others. Chag Urim Sameach! Happy Chanukah!