CHANUKAH, though not one of the Jewish High Holidays, captures mainstream attention due to its near coincidence with Christmas and tends to spark more interest than other holidays from non-Jews.
I have celebrated Chanukah, also known as a Festival of Lights, with my family since I was a child. The tradition we practiced involved lighting candles on the menorah at sundown, singing Hebrew prayers and an exchange of gifts.
This repeats each night of Chanukah, of which there are eight. Each night an additional candle is lit, increasing the light. The gradual growth in the brilliance of the flames from night to night mirrors what is occurring in nature as we pass through the darkest and shortest days and welcome a few more minutes of light after we pass the Winter Solstice.
I remember as child, loving that, as with most Jewish holidays, we could begin as soon as the sun went down, and I would sit and watch the sun sink from view and then scream to my family to come light the candles.
It was important in our family to place our menorah, with its candles burning, in our window for the neighborhood to see. The history of Jews, both ancient and modern, has been marked by various forms of prejudice, persecution, and even genocide.
Even today casual (or severe) anti-semitism is common in many places. Because of this history, of which most Jews are keenly aware, it feels important to let our light shine brightly in the face of all injustice everywhere.
Even though our culture and traditions may be unfamiliar or misunderstood by some, we don’t hide our light, instead we show the world that even in the darkest times we can kindle a flame of hope and knowledge and justice.
Perseverance in the face of adversity, both of our own people, and of oppressed people everywhere, is the value I hope to pass on to my son, and it is indeed, a common theme in all Jewish holy days and celebrations.
Like any other family celebration we gather with friends and family, have parties, cook lots of food, and continue or create meaningful traditions that will live on in our young family members into the future.
The feeling is joyous and warm and fosters a wonderful connection between us as family and as humans.
What I love about being Jewish is that I am a part of one of the world’s great Wisdom Traditions that values expression of all kinds, learning in all its forms, and a commitment to justice and freedom for all people. Selah!