Tonight is the eight and last night of Hanukkah. Because of all Mark and I have gone through the past several months, we decided to keep it lowkey.
But it was needed. For this was a time of rest and shalom for my beloved and I.
I have been hearing the Hanukkah was early this year.
No. It came right on time. Hanukkah begins on the 25th of the hebrew month Kislev every year and this year was no different. It just didn't come around the same time as Christmas.
The reason. Jewish festivals and commemoration begin on different Gregorian dates each year because they're set by a lunar-based Hebrew calendar adjusted to ensure certain ones fall during certain seasons.
For which I, for one am glad. Often Hanukkah is seen as Christmas-Lite, or mini Christmas.
And it isn't. Frankly, camparing the two holidays cheapens them both.
Hanukkah is probably one of the best known Jewish holidays, not because of any great religious significance, but because it often falls the same week of Christmas. Many non-Jews (and even many assimilated Jews) think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration. It is bitterly ironic that this holiday, which has its roots in a revolution against assimilation and the suppression of the Jewish religion, has become the most assimilated, secular holiday on our calendar.
And while I love to decorate and the gift giving, the parties and of course the food, I sometimes think the true meaning of Hanukkah, along with Christmas, gets lost in the piles of white and blue gift wrapping.
The Story of Hanukkah.
It begins in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt and Israel, but allowed the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. Under this relatively benevolent rule, many Jews assimilated much of Hellenistic culture, adopting the language, the customs and the dress of the Greeks, in much the same way that Jews in America today blend into the secular American society.
More than a century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV was in control of the region. He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a Hellenistic priest in the Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs (a non-kosher animal) on the altar. Two groups opposed Antiochus: a basically nationalistic group led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah Maccabee, and a religious traditionalist group known as the Chasidim, the forerunners of the Pharisees. They joined forces in a revolt against both the assimilation of the Hellenistic Jews and oppression by the Seleucid Greek government. The revolution succeeded and the Temple was rededicated.
According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle.
Now if you notice, this holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.
So on 25th Kislev and the next seven nights that follow, we reenact the miracle of the oil, by lighting a candle each night. It is traditional to eat fried foods on Hanukkah because of and, the significance of oil to the holiday. Among Ashkenazic Jews, this usually includes latkes (pronounced "lot-kuhs" or "lot-keys". Pronounced "potato pancakes" if you are a goy. In our house, this is fried fish, sweet pototoe latkes (a Sepherdic tradition) and cheese cake. Friends who are really family, and of course stories of hanukkah, both of past and our own.
This year, Mark and I have had our own battles. Mark battling PTSD, helping a sick friend and family drama. We have fought the assault of those who still cannot and/or will not accept who we are as Jews, the pressure to assimilate and be like everyone else. To take off the kippoh and the snood, letting the hair down and forgetting Who we belong to.
Hanukkah is not only known as the festival of lights and the festival of rededication, but the celebration of religious freedom. That a people was almost wiped out, not only by war, but by assimilation. That a small band rose up to to fight both and in doing so, saved not only the Jewish people, the faith we hold dear, but the whole world, then and now from total darkness.
This Hanukkah told on a whole new meaning for Mark and I. A cleaning out of our home, our souls, our marriage. A rededicating of ourselves to the G-d we love and worship, to each other, to our marriage. Of resetting the cornerstone of our faith, of our marriage. Cleaning, polishing the menorh so that our light would burn brighter.
And thrus the lights of Hankkah. Those eight little lights that pieace the darkness of this world.
May they ever burn brightly in our home and in our hearts.