Happy Chanukah to my many friends around the world! I love the traditions of Chanukah for many reasons. The holiday brings back so many wonderful memories of time with family and friends.
Many of my earliest mentors, teachers, and business partners today begin the celebration of Chanukah. It’s an experience that leaves you inspired and changed forever. I thought I’d share the things that make Chanukah such a wonderful holiday to me. Since it’s a holiday I thought I might share it as a story that I hope touches you heart as the celebration begins tonight.
It seems like only yesterday when I attended my first Chanukah celebration as I was considering becoming a minister. I was invited by a Rabbi to attend the pre-festivities in his temple and then in the home of one of his community.
What first struck me was the setting in the Temple. Everyone was dressed up and they all had a certain joy to their personality this night. As I looked around the room I could see many friends and families of people I knew from school. But before I was permitted into the main part of the temple I was given a yamaka, which is also called yarmulke, to put on my head.
Then I proceeded to be escorted to the second row and was assigned a guide who would help me better understand what was going on and what to expect over the next several nights of Chanukah or The Festival of Light. I don’t remember much of the evening, but two things stay with me even to today. The first was hearing the reading from the Torah in Hebrew which moved me in ways that I hadn’t felt since then. The second was the sense of community in the temple that night. I can only imagine how this had been done for thousands of years in Temples around the world.
As I left I was given the address of a temple member, so I could attend the next part of this festival in their home. I remember being told I didn’t have to go the first night, but would have eight days to attend the lighting ceremony. But of course those who know me know I can be a little impatient and so I made plans to attend the first night lighting ceremony. When I showed up the first night, no one was surprised. As I walked into the home I was given a yamaka to wear.
The host then began to tell me the history of Chanukah, why they celebrated the victory over a much larger opponent. He then told me about the most critical part of the story was they were able to reclaim the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicate it to the service of G-d. He also shared that they did not ever write out G-d.
As I went further into the house, a wonderful aroma was coming out of the kitchen. I was then led by one of my classmates into the kitchen full of special foods. My classmate shared that Chanukah customs include eating foods that are specially prepared for the festival. She gave me a plate of latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (fried doughnuts) for me to try out. The food tasted amazing. I can see why my friends love these special treats.
So back to the reason I was asked to attend, I was then taken into a larger room where a menorah was set up. A much older man with a twinkle in his eye educated me to how the nightly menorah was lit. He then shared several stories how at different times he had been given the opportunity to light the Chanukah candles. He told me that the first night the warriors of Israel reclaimed Temple, there was not enough oil to keep the candles all lit, but miraculously it lasted for eight days. He also shared that each progressive night additional candles would be lit until all eight candles on the menorah were aflame. He also told how great the honor was to be permitted to light the candles.
Our discussion then turned to prayer. He explained several prayers that were shared during Chanukah. This was ironic, in the sense that at relatively young age I had thought I knew much of prayer, being I was going to be a Minister, after all. It was the difference between reading the book and living it. He lived the book and had for many years. But then this wonderful man told me about how G-d had delivered the strong into the weak, the many into the few and the wicked into the righteous. I could feel the strength in this man’s convictions. I would only later learn that he was a retired rabbi who was visiting from overseas. I have always found G-d working in the most mysterious ways in my life. This Rabbi’s sharing gave me a different perspective on my faith.
Finally, what about the gifts? Christmas provides children many wonderful memories of gifts and giving. How does Chanukah provide for Jewish children? Here is another great tradition. The gifts that are given support the holiday they’re observing, the gifts of Chanukah gelt. This could include gold chocolate coins, money, and a sense of prosperity.
I hope you have a better understanding of why many people celebrate Happy Chanukah at this time of year. It’s a beautiful Festival of Lights honoring the victory of light over dark. Through G-d, all things are possible for those who believe.
Thursday, we have a special blog. For many people, these holidays are very challenging times. In our busy world, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is feeling the same way we are. I think this Thursday’s blog provides you a different perspective on those around us and how we might want to open our hearts to see the world. See you Thursday. Happy Chanukah!