Why is it important to celebrate our uniqueness on Hanukkah?

During the eight days of Hanukkah, we light candles to celebrate the miracle of the oil lasting eight days, and place Hanukiyot (Hanukkah menorahs) in the window to publicize the miracle. But this year with the war in Israel and the rise in anti-Semitism, we may not feel safe being visible celebrating Hanukkah. (I am writing this article a few weeks before Hanukkah and we cannot anticipate what will be the state of the war in Israel or the landscape of the Jewish community in the USA and around the world when you read this.)

Since October 7th, we have been repeatedly shaken to our core by violence and hatred, and we have experienced many horrible feelings, including fear, anger, grief, sadness, worry and shock. We feel vulnerable, attacked and threatened.

The brave Maccabees are the heroes of Hanukkah because against all odds they fought and succeeded in keeping Judaism alive. With that, they preserved an important value in our society, diversity. We recognize that a respect for diversity is a respect for the uniqueness of every culture, every nationality and every religion.

Diversity is healthy in nature and in society. To keep our human tribe healthy and thriving, we must preserve its diversity. Each culture must continue to thrive and evolve, and relate to other cultures with curiosity, tolerance and respect. We cannot presume to support diversity unless we all live our uniqueness. The courage to be Jewish isn’t just to conserve a specific culture, it’s also to contribute to the wellbeing of a diverse society.

The melting pot may be a useful metaphor for bringing us together and softening boundaries, but not helpful in the case of melding all of us and our traditions into one boring vanilla blob. It is monotonous and not very healthy or interesting. It also robs us of our uniqueness. Instead, I prefer to think of society as a tossed salad. When you toss a salad each vegetable retains its uniqueness, texture and flavor and together, all the ingredients and seasonings make a delicious symphony of tastes. It’s a little messy perhaps, but it is so much more interesting and honoring of each unique flavor and expression.

I challenge us to try to orient back to love, balance, and peace in the midst of brokenness and pain. A fractured and violent world is calling us to tikkun olam, to mending and repairing the world. To encourage diversity and cultivate peace and understanding wherever possible.

I proudly share in the Jewish values and traditions which are deeply concerned with all of humanity. Many of us work to benefit the oppressed, sick and the needy. Now is a time to consider what we need to do to support Jewish people, peoplehood and Israel. To belong to a Jewish community, participate in Jewish life and celebrate our uniqueness. To be visibly proud of our Jewish heritage in 2023 is to affirm the importance of Judaism in our own lives and in the world.

In the Hanukkah story, Judah, who led the revolt to preserve Judaism, is the brave leader of the Maccabees. But he did not act alone. Let us all be brave leaders in celebrating and loving Judaism. In doing so we contribute to tikkun olam, the mending of our world.

I conclude with prayers for safety, reconciliation, kindness and peace.

May we light Hanukkah candles with hope and joy. May we see miracles happen in our days.

Happy Hanukkah.


(Published in the Jewish News)


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