By Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman
At first blush, it would seem that Chanukah is yet another of those ancient Biblical holidays that have to do with,
they tried to kill us, they didn’t succeed, let’s eat.
How wrong that is!
First, Chanukah (however you spell it) is not a Biblical holiday. It was instituted by the Talmudic Rabbis sometime in the 4th or 5th century. Though the events it commemorates took place many centuries earlier, when the Bible was still in the process of being compiled, the story doesn’t appear anywhere within the authorized Scriptures.
And yes, they (the Greeks, that is) tried to destroy Judaism by forbidding not only Jewish worship and rituals, but also through the teaching and learning of Torah and Hebrew.
But it never was about latkes and applesauce, or sour cream, or whatever side dish you like with your favorite fried vegetable. All that came later. Much later.
Originally, way in the days that preceded both the Greeks and the Jews, it was a festival of lights, with rituals intended to bring back the light and warmth of the sun. However, even that changed through the ages. It’s still about lights, but also about so much more.
It’s about Jewish survival despite all odds.
Today, when we see anti-Semitism on the rise again, we are reminded that we are still surrounded by the darkness of prejudice and hatred. Yet hope shines through. We survived every attempt on our existence (though the unimaginable numbers of our martyrs give sad evidence to our history as a persecuted minority). Today, whether the hatred comes from anti-Zionists or neo-Nazis, from the political left or the Alt-Right, we can find hope in the support and friendship of our many friends, Jewish and Gentile.
We saw that support in Pittsburgh, site of the horrific synagogue shooting, with members of the Muslim community raising a generous sum of money to help out the families of the victims. We saw that support in the letters, emails, calls, hugs and flowers that were delivered to our houses of worship. Every synagogue throughout the country, every community that held memorial vigils and special services, experienced incredible turnout.
Over and again, we were reminded that the oldest hatred cannot win out in the end, that
Love is stronger than hate.
Jewish celebrations are rarely without a few tears shed. It will be the same this year.
And yet celebrate we will. With lights, songs, games and — yes — special foods.
At Temple B’nai Israel in Laconia, our Chanukah celebration will take place on the weekend of December 7-9. Friday evening, we will have a community dinner for members, children and grandchildren, followed by a special family service. Saturday evening, TBI will host our annual Chanukah party with more candles, food, games, prizes and Israeli dancing. With each year and each celebration, we say
Shehecheuanu, the prayer thanking God for enabling us to exist, live and reach joyous times yet again. The Jewish People has learned not to take its existence for granted. Gratitude is the least we could offer in return.