We’re about to celebrate one of my most favorite Jewish holidays: Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, which begins Dec. 18 and runs through Dec. 26.
It’s my favorite because more than any other Jewish holiday, Chanukah is all about celebrating our freedom to live proudly as Jews—and the universal value of freedom of religion that all of us enjoy and cherish. Its story of overcoming oppression and bias is something we can all learn from, and something many of us relate to in a very real way.
More than 2,000 years ago, Syrian-Greek King Antiochus IV, who ruled over the Land of Israel, enacted draconian restrictions on Jewish life and practice, banning many of the cornerstones of Jewish life. A small band of Jews known as the Maccabees stood up for their faith against their oppressors. Miraculously, they won an upset victory against their foes, and recaptured the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which had been sacked by the Syrian-Greeks.
They were eager to resume the observances that had been disallowed for so long, and sought to kindle once more the menorah—the seven-branched candelabrum lit each day as part of the Temple service. But they found only one small jug of undefiled oil, and more oil was an eight-day round trip away. Still, they lit the oil they had, and miraculously, it lasted eight days, giving us the length of the festival and the eight-branched menorah we light each night.
We’re celebrating the triumph of right over might, of freedom over oppression. And the celebration is loud and proud: originally, people would place their menorahs outside their front doors. Today, the menorah is placed near a door or window for all to see.
In 1974, the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson—launched the Chanukah campaign, encouraging the placement of public menorahs around the world in keeping with the holiday’s central tenet: to spread the word of the miracles that took place.
In South County, we’re excited to gather with so many people—of many faiths and backgrounds—to celebrate Chanukah’s universal message of tolerance and freedom of religion with all this Dec. 18 at 4pm at the Morgan Hill Downtown Amphitheater. We’ll light a nine-foot menorah along with city officials and enjoy Chanukah treats, live music, a fire show, inflatables, crafts, prizes and more. It’s free of charge and open to everyone—just as the holiday was meant to be celebrated.
Chanukah comes this year as concerns rise once more over the rising tide of antisemitism, hatred and bias of all kinds. When we gather as a community to celebrate Chanukah, we will be sending a message loud and clear to those who still harbor hatred in their hearts: that the light of freedom, tolerance and understanding will triumph over the darkness of hatred and intolerance, just as it did all those years ago.
To register for the Chanukah Celebration and Menorah Lighting, visit jewishmh.com/chanukah.
Rabbi Mendel Liberow is the director of Chabad South County Jewish Center in Morgan Hill, which offers Jewish education, outreach and social service programming for families and individuals of all ages, backgrounds and affiliations. For information, visit JewishMH.com. Please be in touch with any comments, questions or feedback at [email protected].