Susan Elkodsi — Long Island Herald
This year, for only the fifth time in the past 100 years, the first night of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve have fallen on the same day. The others were in 1918, 1921, 1959 and 2005, which is a great tidbit of trivia for a cocktail party, or if you end up on Jeopardy.
This unusual occurrence has to do with the lunar and solar calendars aligning, but from a less scientific standpoint, two religious holidays falling on the same day has particular importance today, when hate and bias crimes are on the rise in many areas of the country, including our own. The United States was founded on the principle of all people being equal, and with the idea that everyone should be able to voice their opinions and practice their own religions. The majority of our citizens exemplify this in their speech and in their behavior.
The observance of the festival of Hanukkah is a celebration of the desire for religious freedom, and the willingness and dedication of a committed group of individuals to fight for that freedom – and to prevail. The stories of the small Israelite army led by Judah Maccabee defeating the larger Syrian-Greek army, and the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days are great stories, but they’re not history; the battle for religious freedom is still being fought today, and even more importantly, so is the battle for equality with respect to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and opinion.
Hanukkah doesn’t traditionally carry a message of social justice or a call to action. However, like other Jewish observances and traditions, it has taken on additional meanings and messages in response to a changing world. If anyone is being persecuted and deprived of their liberties, we are all being persecuted and deprived. No one is immune.
There have always been dark times, and there always will be. Darkness is fearsome; I suspect no child ever worried about monsters under the bed during the daytime! But when our fears are brought to light, when we can embrace other viewpoints and practices – not just tolerate or respect them–we can go a long way towards creating light in our communities.
On each of the 8 nights when we light the hanukkiya, the special Hanukkah menorah, we add a candle, increasing the amount of light going out into the world. Spreading light means spreading love – love for those who share our beliefs, as well as for those who don’t. This Hanukkah, may the light of love embrace us all.