Though Chanukkah may be a minor holiday in the constellation of Jewish observances, it is unquestionably one of the most important among the people. Recognizing that resonance, lots of groups have attempted to exploit the days of the holiday and its message. Few of them have to do with the original message of Chanukkah beyond a passing reference to the meaning of the word: “dedication.”
Chanukkah is about restoring personal and communal devotion to tradition, specifically the functions of the Temple. The elation that followed the Maccabean victory gave way to a sort of worship of worship; Rabbinic Judaism was a counterrevolution.
The return to old forms with new meaning and to old meaning with new forms is the essence of Judaism's survival. In every generation, devoted Jews have waged faithful rebellion. With true devotion to God at the center, renewal is the result.
The causes that solicit your attention as you light candles are all worthwhile, but they mostly miss the point of Chanukkah. Like the relentless consumerism of the season, the tide will not be stemmed. But if you are looking for the meaning of Chanukkah in these days, at this time, look to two events at the synagogue.
In December, we “officially welcome” our two newest members of the staff. Benjy Cohen, in his first few months, has looked at an old form – youth education – and approached it with new meaning. Elisheva Dienstfrey, in her first year and a half, has taken old meaning – the beauty of prayer and music – and given it a new form. They are our Maccabees, and call to us as Mattathias called to the Jews of Modin: whoever is for God, follow me.
Elsewhere in The Bulletin are dates and details of how you can respond with your welcome and support. Join me in true celebration of Chanukkah.