Hanukkah: A celebration and a testament

Posted: Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hanukkah has always been one of my favorite times of year.

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Each year during these eight days, I feel closer to my Jewish roots than at any time other than Pesach. Each year, I am most proud of Jewish history. Each year, I am grateful for belonging to Am Israel - the Jewish people. Each year, I am humbled by the dedication that has kept Judaism - and Hanukkah - alive.

When I light the hanukiah, I am reminded of millions upon millions of Jews: those all over the world lighting the candles at the same time, those who lit the candles when the miracle of the Maccabean victory was still fresh, those who have lit the candles proudly, those who have lit the candles despite living in fear and hiding, and all those who will light the candles long after I pass.

Hanukkah - meaning dedication - is the most significant Jewish observance with no direct ties to the Torah. Many people believe that, like Pesach occurring near Easter, it is only emphasized because of coincidence with Christmas. This "seasonal" explanation is trotted out as the reason why "lapsed" Jews still observe these two holidays and none others. I don't think that the calendar is to blame.

At Pesach, we celebrate our freedom, the freedom to be Jews. It is invigorating to be reminded that we, collectively and individually, have control over our lives and the ability to exercise free choice.

Hanukkah is the other side of that coin. It is not enough to simply be Jewish or take advantage of that free choice. We must also be responsible for ensuring that future generations can as well.

Nes gadol hayah sham. A great miracle happened there. The miracle of the Syrian defeat at the hands of the Maccabees ensured that Judaism would survive Hellenism. That spirit has continued throughout the ages as Judaism has survived both internal and external pressures to be changed, assimilated, eradicated.

While Hanukkah celebrates the dedication of the Temple, it is also a testament to the dedication of Jews. This alone is enough reason for those even who have "lapsed" to continue the tradition of Hanukkah - to honor and maintain that dedication, to do at least that little bit to maintain the contiguity of Am Israel.

For those of us who are more involved or observant, Hanukkah can serve as an opportunity to renew our dedication to keeping the light of Judaism shining. This December, I invite everyone who lights candles to consider their dedication - their own Hanukkah.

Congregation Sukkat Shalom welcomes everyone to the annual community Hanukkah potluck and candle lighting, Sunday, December 9, 5 pm at Temple Sukkat Shalom, 211 Cordova St., West Juneau. Hanukkah began this year at sunset Tuesday, Dec. 4 and ends at sundown Wednesday, Dec. 12.

• Mandy Schramm is president of the Congregation Sukkat Shalom.

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