Keep Chanukah hope-filled

Chanukah will be bittersweet for us this year. This holiday is meant to be our celebration of religious freedom. Nearly 2200 years ago, the underdog Maccabees won their religious freedom from the Seleucid Greeks. Our ancestors were literally fighting for their Jewish existence. 
Historically, we know that the conflict was intense and nuanced. For some unknown reason, Antiochus Epiphanes, leader of the Seleucid Greeks, decided to outlaw Jewish traditions and ritual practice. This forced the Jewish community to choose: Would they rally together to face a common foe, or would elements side with the Greeks? 
The story we tell is “us vs. them.” (i.e., The Jewish people rose up united against the Greeks to defend their religious liberty.) In reality, it was much more complicated. A significant percentage of the Jewish community completely rejected Greek fashion, culture and practices. But many in the Jewish community embraced aspects of Greek influence and were attempting to maintain a core Jewish identity and acculturate into Greek-influenced society. Other Jews rejected Judaism completely and preferred to assimilate. 
In this way, the war against the Seleucid Greeks was partly external (us vs. them) and partly internal (a civil war). In many ways, all those years ago, we were fighting a war over who we wanted to be as a people. We were fighting for the right to determine our own Jewish identities.
Israel is now fighting another war   with Hamas, an enemy that rejects Israel’s very right to exist. And once again, Jews disagree over why to fight the war and how to fight the war.
What makes this war more tragic, above and beyond those Hamas murdered on Oct. 7, is the hostages they took into captivity. In a major development, Hamas has released 51 Israeli hostages in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners. But as of this writing, Hamas is still holding more than 150 hostages. 
For both those freed and those still in captivity, what will Chanukah mean to them this year? What will this holiday mean to their family and friends? What are they feeling? How are coping? 
In 2023, the Israeli people, Jews throughout the world, and all our allies are still waging a war for the sake of religious freedom, for the sake of safety and security and for the sake of being Jewish.
We can celebrate Chanukah by utilizing the symbolic power of light – of hope and a vision for a safer future. Centuries ago, the Schools of Rabbis Hillel and Shammai debated how to light the Chanukah menorah. Shammai said that on the first night of the holiday, we should light the full Chanukah menorah and decrease by one candle each evening. Hillel said the opposite: On the first night, light one candle, and increase it each night until the Chanukah menorah is full. As we know, we follow Hillel’s vision, to ensure that the lights only grow brighter and more numerous during the 8-day holiday.
For Chanukah this year, to ritualize the plight of the remaining hostages, I propose we light an additional Chanukah menorah. And let us light it in a unique fashion. On the first night, light all 8 candles. On the second night, light 7. On the third night, light 6. And on the fourth night, light 5. This will represent how our hopes and dreams have been diminished this year because of the hostages’ pain, isolation and powerlessness and what the recently freed hostages and their families have ensured. 
But then on the fifth night, light 5 again. On the sixth night, light 6. On the seventh night, light 7. And on the eighth night, light 8. In doing so, we express that we will not allow our hope and optimism to be further diminished. Further, we pledge to do whatever we can to draw attention to the remaining hostages. All of them must be freed and returned to their families.
As we celebrate Chanukah this year, may we fulfill our sacred responsibility to ensure that the hope of freedom, safety and security burns bright for the hostages, for Israelis and for the greater Jewish community.



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