When I grew up, we did not publicly display our Judaism. The Deep South in the 1960s was not the most tolerant area of the United States. Sure, people knew with the name “Goldstein” that we were Jewish. To most, we were just different. My father grew up in Poland between the world wars when anti-Semitism on the left and right went unchecked. Coupled with surviving the Holocaust, it was understandable that he had problems with being “too Jewish” outside of the house. I remember when we were in public, perhaps having a conversation at a restaurant, that certain words were whispered or at least slightly muted. “Israel.” “Jewish.” “Synagogue.” “Rosh Hashanah.” It was such an automatic reflex that I thought the words were supposed to be pronounced that way.
In December on our street, (we were the only Jews in the neighborhood), every other house on the block had living rooms brightly lit with trees and flickering lights and curtains wide open so the world could see. But not our house. As affiliated Jews, we did not have a Christmas tree (or a Chanukah bush). No flickering light strands outlined our roof. And when it came time to light Chanukah candles, the curtains were drawn shut and the candles were lit either on the kitchen counter or on the den fireplace mantle, far from the front windows facing the street. My father explained that the menorah was for us and its light was for us. There’s no need to open the curtains.
My experience is in sharp contradiction to Jewish laws for lighting the Chanukah menorah. Jewish tradition bestows a mitzvah for Jews to light Chanukah candles to “publicize the miracle” of Chanukah. The menorah must be kindled in a way that it can be seen outside, by the largest number of passers-by. This means at your doorstep, in your big picture window, etc. It is most preferable to light the candles outside adjacent to your home’s main entry. If this is not feasible, you may place the menorah in a window that faces a public thoroughfare. But do it in such a way as to inform the world that the Jewish spirit was not extinguished by the Greeks.
In Israel a common Chanukah accessory is a glass encasement for your menorah. Using the encasement allows you to place the menorah outside and the flame is shielded from the wind and rain.
You can’t help but notice this season as the “other high holiday season.” Retailers move us quickly from Halloween through New Years with many stops in between. This time of year, we get caught up in the “December Dilemma” trying to find comfort while everything else in our culture reminds us that we are different. Most Jewish families celebrate Chanukah, if only for something to do whilst everyone else is celebrating something as well.
Our tradition tells us that the menorah is to send a message to the world. My father taught me that the menorah is to send a message to us.
So this year, light your menorah in your window, with the curtains open wide. Do it, not because of the December holiday season and we want something flickering at our house, but because of our pride in celebrating our Jewish holidays, regardless of when they fall on the Gregorian calendar. Do not shy away from exclaiming to the world that the Jewish spirit was not extinguished by the Greeks. Let everyone know that the miracle of Chanukah is not solely in the fact that the single jug of oil lasted for eight nights when the Maccabees rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem. The miracle of Chanukah is also that the menorah still burns, thousands of years later, despite assimilation and physical attempts to eradicate Jews.
Proudly displaying your menorah in your window is a demonstration to your neighbors, and more importantly, is also a demonstration to yourself about who you are and your being a part of the Jewish community and the Jewish people.
The light of the menorah sends a message to those outside of your house as well as to those inside your house, and the message is the same: Happy Chanukah.