In the Suburbs / Finding the true meaning of Hanukkah
Updated 9:36 am, Saturday, December 8, 2012
Hanukkah begins at sundown Saturday. In their menorahs, Jewish families like ours will light one candle for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah to commemorate the rededication of the second temple of Jerusalem and the celebration of freedom from Hellenist tyranny.
Each year, the Hanukkah story reminds us of the bravery of Judah Maccabee and his small band of guerilla fighters who overthrew the Hellenists and reclaimed the temple, but found barely enough oil for the eternal light above the sacred ark to burn for one day. As a courier rushed to bring more oil, a miracle happened: The existing oil burned for eight days.
We celebrate Hanukkah with potato latkes (pancakes) and soufganiot (donuts) cooked in oil to symbolize the miracle oil. And, of course, there are Hanukkah gifts. Some families give one gift a day, but most families give each family member one or two gifts during the holiday. My understanding is that the gift-giving ritual of Hanukkah didn't begin until the Middle Ages.
Beyond the candle lighting, special foods and gifts, Hanukkah for me means rededication. And rededication means much more than the original restoration of the temple.
For instance, I think we need to rededicate ourselves to the gifts of freedom and free choice, not just at Hanukkah but every day. Unlike so many other countries where freedom comes at a high price, we often take it for granted.
Rededication to family and friends is important at this holiday and every day. Each year, we inadvertently do little things that may tarnish or injure our relationships, but at this special holiday we have the chance to reconnect with loved ones and mend broken fences. No matter whether we can visit someone at the holiday or just talk with them on the phone, we need to tell people, especially in our immediate family, how important it is to have them as part of our lives.
Hanukkah provides the opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the beliefs that have made us who we are what we are and not be afraid to share those beliefs. We shouldn't worry about whether someone shares our beliefs, but celebrate our differences instead. The Maccabees weren't afraid to fight and die for their beliefs. We need a similar rededication.
Caring about those less fortunate or in need and doing something about it is part of the rededication. Hurricane Sandy reminded us that, in a matter of hours, some people could be humbled by Mother Nature and lose everything. And the continuing recession may have taken its toll on friends and neighbors. How can we help even more?
Rededication could be finding a new, valuable career direction. Some people may be mired in a career or job and feel trapped. Rededication can help a person reevaluate and explore new options.
Good health and prevention of illness are excellent areas for rededication. For instance, I joined a gym again right after Sandy struck, since our lack of power drove us to a local gym for showers. I thought, "Why not rejoin?" I haven't been back to a gym in years, the price was right and the need to stay in shape was gnawing at me. So I took the plunge again.
Perhaps when families light their menorahs each night, family members can reflect individually on those areas that need rededication and share them. Sharing would give more families the resolve to do something rather than just think about it.
One of my most enjoyable Hanukkah practices is to invite family and friends for a pot-luck dinner -- they bring their menorahs and dishes to share -- usually on one of the later nights of the holiday. As the guests assemble, we ask all to light their candles, we turn off the lights in our dining room and open the curtains. The sea of light really helps us remember the true meaning of Hanukkah and the miracle of the oil.
Over a wonderful meal with plenty of Latkes and occasionally Soufganiot, we sing some Hanukkah songs and acknowledge each person for being part of each others' lives. And that is rededication at its very best.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.