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the real chanukah

12/02/2021 08:49:49 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

The proximity of Thanksgiving and Chanukah this year gave me pause to reflect upon the commonality of both. Some scholars suggest that Thanksgiving was modeled after the holiday of Sukkot, the fall harvest festival, as a way for the pilgrims to express their gratitude to God. Research has shown that the origins of Chanukah have little to do with the miraculous cruse of oil that lasted for eight days, and more to do with a belated celebration of Sukkot, as the most important day to most ancient Israelites was Shemini Atzeret, when the prayer for rain would be offered. Sukkot is the common denominator of both holidays, but not in name alone.

Hopefully most of you reading my blog were able to celebrate Thanksgiving in a joyous and safe manner. It also demands that we be mindful of those who cannot, and that we have a responsibility to share that bit of extra we have to brighten the lot of those less fortunate, so that they too can find something to be thankful for.

The essence of Chanukah to me is that a small religious minority, when faced with the choices of assimilation or extinction, chose to fight back against a vastly superior majority for the right to live freely and practice their faith. Despite the continued rise of antisemitism in the United States, Jews are still able to freely celebrate their Judaism. A hardy bunch stood with me outside the Tree of Life, braving the suddenly ferocious wind and snow to witness the lighting of the first light of our outdoor Chanukah menorah. My thoughts turned to paraphrasing the song written by Peter Yarrow: We didn’t let the light go out. Evil tried to chase us from our building. While we are temporarily not in our spiritual home, soon we will be, for evil will not win, and we didn’t let the light go out.

I am thankful that I live in a country where countless people from all backgrounds surrounded us with love and support, and that I can continue to do Jewish because they have my back. I can proudly place my electric chanukiyah in my window to proclaim the miracle that we are still here. I can drive around Pittsburgh and see many outdoor Chanukah menorot as well as ones in people’s windows, inflatable Chanukah menorot on lawns, Chanukah decorations in places of business, and people wishing each other a happy Chanukah. For all that people can and do complain about, I do believe that our ancestors who found that observing their Judaism was life-threatening would be overjoyed to see what possibilities exist in the United States. But we cannot become lazy; we must remain vigilant. The massacre at the Tree of Life demonstrated to all Jews throughout the United States that the potential for antisemitic violence remains. It must not lessen our joy however, for then these domestic terrorists win by forcing us to change our behavior. The disease of antisemitism cannot be cured by an inoculation, in spite of its rabidity. It is cured when the antisemite decides not to be an antisemite. In this regard, our task has not changed over the millennia. When they go low, we go high as former first lady Michelle Obama famously said. We must continue to model the beauty of Judaism, and not let the light go out.

Sun, August 7 2022 10 Av 5782