Many Jews today are assimilated, uneducated about their heritage, or otherwise distanced from their Jewish roots. Chanukah is the time to put an end to that!
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
I want to share with you a true Chanukah story that echoes the times in which we live.
In 1960, Sarah, an 11-year-old Jewish girl, lived with her family in Jersey City. They were completely unaffiliated with Judaism, never went to a synagogue, and Sarah attended public school. She would have preferred to go to a Jewish Day School or even just a Sunday school, but her parents refused.
In December, as it came closer to the holidays (Chanukah and Christmas were only several days apart that year), Sarah’s teacher decided to make a holiday party where one of the Christian children would talk about Christmas and a Jewish child would discuss Chanukah. As luck would have it, Sarah was appointed to share information about Chanukah – how it is celebrated and the history behind the holiday.
Sarah knew nothing about Chanukah, and when she came home and asked her father, he had no idea how to help her. They went next door to a religious Jewish neighbor, who gave Sarah a detailed lesson on the holiday and all the miracles associated with it.
The next day Sarah was excited to share what she had learned about Chanukah with her classmates and teacher, and everyone enjoyed her presentation.
Afterwards, her classmates were discussing different houses of worship and asked Sarah which one she attends. Sarah was silent and didn’t know what to answer, as her family was so assimilated and she had never even stepped inside a synagogue. As everyone waited to hear her answer, she started crying; she was so embarrassed. She couldn’t even name a local synagogue.
Suddenly one of her classmates said, “What don’t you all understand? Of course, she goes to a Jewish house of worship!” And then the bell rang, freeing Sarah from the interrogation.
Sarah ran home and burst into the house in tears, explaining how she was so embarrassed at school. She was so upset that she even forget about her success at presenting the holiday of Chanukah. Sarah’s father was so moved and his heart so broken by hearing what had happened that right then and there he agreed to transfer Sarah to the Jewish Day School.
So many Jews today are assimilated, uneducated about their heritage, or otherwise distanced from their Jewish roots. Chanukah is the time to put an end to all that! Chanukah is the time to get re-connected and re-dedicated. In fact, the word “Chanukah” actually means “dedication.” The heroes of Chanukah, the Maccabees, found a Holy Temple that was devoid of any trace of Judaism. Nevertheless, they made “Chanukah” – a re-dedication, renewal, and new commitment to restoring Jewish life in Jerusalem and the Temple.
Chanukah is an opportunity for us, too, to rededicate ourselves to our Judaism. Let that Maccabee inside of you conquer all your spiritual enemies. If perhaps you’ve been “slipping” recently in your Jewish commitment and observance, let the “lights” of Chanukah push away your spiritual “darkness.”
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