This month, we celebrate Chanukah, an ancient story of Jewish strength and resilience that nevertheless continues to have 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. But in reality, Chanukah is a celebration of overcoming oppression, resisting assimilation and maintaining our Jewish identity against all odds.
Unlike many other Jewish holidays that are mentioned explicitly in the Torah, Chanukah is a holiday passed down through oral tradition, shared to demonstrate and celebrate the resilience and uprising of Jews who resisted the forces of the large Syrian-Greek Empire’s army. When Antiochus, the Syrian-Greek king, tried to destroy Jewish culture by outlawing Torah, he mistakenly thought that the Jews would quickly adopt the Hellenistic lifestyle. While some Jews did assimilate, Antiochus was not prepared for the unprecedented stubbornness of the Jews who refused to give up their heritage.
Unfortunately, today we must continue to be vigilant in our efforts to combat anti-Semitism. Bari Weiss, New York Times op-ed writer, stated “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 anti-Semitism is … 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.” Although we re-tell individual stories of heroism throughout the Chanukah story—the strength of Yehuda Ha-Maccabi (Judah Maccabee); the ingenuity, cunning, and beauty of Yehudit (Judith); the devout piousness of Chana (Hannah) and her 7 sons—the miracle of Chanukah lies in the strength of a small, but mighty, Jewish community. It is within our own communities that we can convey light, showing up for each other and being present in Jewish spaces: our synagogues, Shabbat dinners, PJ Library events, holiday celebrations.
Our ongoing presence is what strengthens our identity and allows us to maintain our Jewish heritage, fighting forces of anti-Semitism by simply being. Let us take this energizing message and embody it within our own community this season, living Jewishly in the face of anti-Semitism and speaking out for 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 anti-Semitism wherever it occurs.
May the Chanukah lights burn brightly for you and for those you love.
Chag Urim Sameach! Happy Chanukah!