Wider society may have decided this festival is the “Jewish Christmas” - but this co-opting of our celebration loses everything about our distinctive tradition and story. What is the real meaning of Chanukah?
The word Chanukah itself translates from Hebrew as ‘dedication’. This doesn’t make the meaning of this festival terribly obvious, though. The link becomes clearer when we look at the Torah reading for the Shabbat during Chanukah - a piece which describes the process of ‘Chanukat Ha’Mizbeach’, the dedication of the altar in the Tabernacle, the roaming temple with the people in the wilderness.
Despite the most memorable part of the Chanukah story being the triumph of the Maccabees in battle, or even the menorah and the one jug of oil lasting eight days, neither get top billing. That goes to the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after it returned to Jewish control. This is not the exciting part of the story, but it is perhaps the most meaningful. Great triumphs and miracles are wonderful, but the dedication symbolises the commitment to enabling normal Jewish life of the time to be able to resume.
In many ways, the miracle of our days has been the way members of our communities have dedicated themselves to the cause of helping others through our difficult times.
Our normal communal routines have been completely dislocated. The synagogue doors were forced to close - but our hearts and hands have stayed open throughout. 2020 has shown the strength of the family of Reform Jews in this country, as everywhere we have seen the results of what can be achieved when we put our values into action.
We know we face a tough winter, and Reform Judaism remains committed to supporting you in this time. Our Communities that Care initiative will continue to strengthen those in your community doing vital work assisting those in need. Progressive Jewish Students are looking out for the mental health of students through their new membership scheme. We are running workshops in conjunction with Citizens UK to help our leaders understand how to build community in a pandemic.
The dedication of our communities and members is our miracle to celebrate. Let’s hope for one more miracle - that our special efforts to sustain our communities through this one year, just like that jug of oil, have the power to last far longer.
Chag Sameach from everyone at Reform Judaism.