Over the years, Jews have gone back and forth about the festival of Hanukkah: Are we elevating a minor league holiday because of Christmas envy? It’s way past time to put this worn-out trope to rest. The rabbis of the Talmud instructed us to light candles, the candles for the sake of ‘publicizing the miracle.’ If you asked them — which miracle; the little cruse of oil lasting eight days or the Maccabees’ triumph in battle? — they’d agree to both answers. In the Talmud, they play up the oil story and in our siddur we include ‘al hanisim,’ the special prayer of gratitude for God delivering the mighty into the hands of the weak.
We live in a time when certain celebrities spew antisemitic poison, and when other public figures normalize this outrageous and dangerous behavior — you all know who I’m talking about because it’s Page 1 News. I don’t need to mention their names. But make no mistake — neither you nor I can afford to remain silent. The Passover Seder forcefully chimes into this conversation. I’m referring to the text beginning with the words ‘v’hi she’amda’ — roughly translated: It is an established
truth…that in each generation there are those that arise against us to destroy us. And, toward the end of the seder, we open the door and recite some rather strong words (the paragraph beginning with ‘pour out Your wrath’) right after we welcome
Elijah. The words can be squirm-inducing as they acknowledge bitter anger. To paraphrase an old movie, the open-door rant has the vibe of ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!’
Folks, let’s be serious. Synagogues around the country, as well as around the world, don’t have a regular police presence just for the fun of it. The hateful tweets and the coded winks and nods from certain politicians have yielded lethal consequences. Is Hanukkah a holiday to be taken seriously? Very much so. From the lights to the dreidels to the latkes. All of it. How exciting that there will be public lightings in Milledgeville, Macon and Perry this coming Hanukkah! Its message is relevant, not only for us but for our neighbors — we support each other and we call out the bigots. We don’t look away in silence as the haters see just how much malice they can get away with. We shine a light, we sing aloud. Final word from one of my favorite bands — “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”