Chanukah 5776

CHANUKAH
Susan Elkodsi — Long Island Herald

In the early 1990s, when my children were small, we often watched a video called “Chanukah at Grover’s Corner.” The host, David Grover, had assembled an ethnically and religiously diverse group of friends for a Chanukah celebration at his home. During an afternoon of song, food and games (which took place over the course of half an hour), he gently explained to one person that Chanukah isn’t “The Jewish Christmas,” and helped another guest feel more comfortable by pointing out why it’s okay to join in the holiday celebration of someone of a different faith. “After all,” he said, “you celebrate your friend’s birthday, even though it’s not yours, right?”

What a wonderful analogy as we move into a holiday season that is meaningful for so many in our community. Chanukah, Christmas and Milad un Nabi (The Prophet’s Birthday, celebrating the birth of Mohammed, observed on 12/24) share several themes. They’re occasions for giving gifts to family and friends; donating money, food, clothing and toys to those in need; connecting with our respective histories and traditions, and praying for peace in the world.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the mayhem of holiday shopping, cooking and parties; we’re inundated with requests for money and goods from charitable organizations, each of which has a more poignant story, and we navigate a maze of travel plans to get kids home from college, visit family, or get away to a warmer or colder climate for a few days. Our stress levels will increase, as will our waistlines. It will take its toll on our health and well-being, and come January, we may be cursing as we try to get ourselves back on track.

The saying, “It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness,” is attributed to many — ranging from an ancient Chinese proverb to Eleanor Roosevelt — and I don’t think it’s an accident that the “season of light” occurs during the darkest time of the year. This is a time when we celebrate the miracles that bring light into our lives and the lives of others. In other words, we light the candle.

In Hebrew school I was taught that the miracles of Chanukah were, “too many to count,” but there are two that most often come to mind; the miracle of the oil that was only enough to last for one day, but lasted for eight, and the miracle of the much smaller army of Maccabees defeating the much more powerful Syrian-Greek forces.

Jewish or not, there are lessons in the Chanukah story that have relevance for all of us. One is that a little light can go a long way. Translate “light” into “act of kindness,” and watch someone’s face light up. Harness the power of a few people committed to making the world a better place instead of settling for the status quo. It was Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” And it’s the only thing that will continue to do so.

I often joke that the short history of every Jewish holiday is, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” In other words, a great miracle happened there. I believe miracles happen every day, and more importantly, I believe each of us has the power to make miracles happen. One of the greatest is the miracle we enjoy of living in a diverse community where we can share in each other’s joyous celebrations, even if they’re not our own.

Whether you spell it Chanukah, Hanukkah or Chanuka, may your celebrations, and the entire holiday season, be filled with light and love.

Rabbi Susan Elkodsi
Malverne Jewish Center