Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication, is a happy holiday, one that commemorates a Jewish military victory and a miracle reflecting God’s intervention on our behalf. It is rich with symbolism and ritual. It is also rich with spirituality, and presents a golden opportunity to teach and show our children what it means to be Jewish.
Like Passover and Sukkot, the majority of Hanukkah rituals take place in the home. We create meaning and memories with our families, taking turns lighting the menorah candles, eating traditional foods and playing dreidel. These activities remind us who we are and where we come from; they link us to each other and anchor us in our Judaism.
These days, it is a challenge to avoid letting Hanukkah become trivialized as a retaildriven, superficial Christmas analog. Our children in particular are under pressure from their peers and the media. It is our job to help them find comfort and significance in the simple act of lighting a candle.
Each flickering flame has the power to connect us to light, the conqueror of darkness and the original source of nourishment. During these dark winter solstice nights, when we place the Hanukkah menorah in a window visible to the public, as is customary in many communities, we go one step further.
Our menorah in the window shows the world that we Jews bring light into the world, that we take seriously and literally our charge of “tikkun olam” (repairing the world). Our menorah in the window shows the world that despite the recent rash of anti-Semitism, we will not be intimidated; we will continue to display our Judaism proudly and publicly.
For Jews, the meaning of light is inspiration, courage, warmth, strength and belief in oneself. This is the lesson of Hanukkah 2014 that we can pass on to our children.
This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on December 18, 2014.