This may be one of the most challenging Chanukah seasons in memory! Think of it, this is a festival that, at its core, celebrates a military victory. How strange it may be to spin our dreidel as the war in Gaza continues. How strange it may be to try and rationalize the often-grotesque commercialism of the festival with the suffering now being shown daily on TV. How difficult it may be some families to come together in peace and celebration when some may be feeling alienated from their Judaism over the conduct of the war. What “light” can we shed this season into the darkness that seems to surround is literally and figuratively?
Much as I wish I were able to write the answers to these questions, we all know that this is impossible. This Chanukah tinged with the reality of life now being lived and maybe the lights we light can be seen as some sort of sign for our own life and the understanding that there are some things we can control, and some we cannot. So, if nothing else, let us try and gather strength for our own sense of self and Jewish identity during this season. There is no doubt we need it as the rise in antisemitism is showing us. This is a time for our own sense of self pride as a member of the Jewish community.
So, the candles on the Chanukiah. As you know, we light them so as the candles increase each night. By the last night of the festival, the Chanukia glows. As we light the candles this year, maybe take a moment to reflect on your own Jewish journey. What have been the moments when your sense of Jewish life and pride were most prominent? Who have been the role models that helped shape your Jewish identity? Perhaps there have been eight moments or people that you can remember, reflect upon and thus honor. Maybe as each candle is lit, we can make a commitment to do something to aid the Jewish community in the coming year? Perhaps this year instead of another gift, take that money and donate it to a Jewish cause or in support of aid to Israel.
In our tradition, light is a symbol of the sacred. This year we need to bring that sense of the sacred into our homes and lives. These are challenging and difficult times for much of our community here and globally. Let us use this festival of light to shine the light of our own Jewish soul into our families, the world, and our own self. One candle at a time, one mitzvah at a time. Each in our own way, “and if not now, when”?
Have a healthy and meaningful Chanukah
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.