Light & Community: Reflections on Hanukkah From Head of School Dr. Jonathan Levy
More than two millennia after a small group of Jews led by the priest Mattityahu and his sons (the Maccabees) led a revolt to push the Greeks out of Jerusalem, the Hanukkah lights remain a symbol of Jewish hope and pride. Which brings me to our school! No matter how clichéd this may sound, TanenbaumCHAT truly is a bright light in our community. We bring students together from diverse Jewish backgrounds, foster knowledge and understanding of our traditions, and nurture pride in our heritage.
Particularly during times like these in which, regrettably, there is a marked increase in antisemitism, publicly lighting our Hanukkah candles feels especially significant. Across thousands of years, this practice is both a response to that 2nd century BCE campaign led by Antiochus Epiphanes to enforce Hellenism on the Jews of Israel, and an echo of how the Maccabees prevailed and rededicated the desecrated Temple, thereby giving rise to the Hanukkah holiday.
It’s interesting that various Jewish texts emphasize different reasons for celebrating Hanukkah.
- The Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 21A), focuses on what is perhaps the most well-known aspect of the holiday – the miracle of the oil: when the Jews wanted to relight the candelabra in the Temple, they found only enough pure oil for one day but miraculously it lasted for eight.
- The al hanissim prayer, inserted into the daily prayers and Grace after Meals (birkat hamazon), emphasizes the military victory as the cause for celebration.
- According to the Book of Maccabees, a 2nd century BCE work not included in the Hebrew Bible, the eight-day-long holiday of Sukkot was not observed that year because the Temple had been defiled. Consequently, the eight days of Hanukkah were instituted as a replacement: Sukkot in December!
No matter our allegiance to a specific interpretation, school, synagogue, locality or community, the Jewish people defy geography. During Hanukkah, arguably the simplest holiday to observe, we all come together and become part of something larger, lighting hanukkiot in our windows for all to see. With candles ablaze, we reinforce the notion that we are one people with an unbreakable bond to our homeland, Israel. We stand strong together against all odds and shine brightly – a beacon of light for the world.
Wishing a Chag Hanukkah Sameach to our entire TanenbaumCHAT family.
Head of School