December 5, 2023

I have a confession to make. Hanukkah snuck up on me this year. Whether it is because my attention has been focused on other things lately or that as I have gotten older, this holiday doesn’t hold the same meaning as it once did, it was not until after I got back from my family’s Thanksgiving vacation that I remembered that Hanukkah begins this Thursday night.

And yet, with everything going on in the world right now, especially as our hearts and minds remain turned towards Israel, Hanukkah is the PERFECT holiday for this moment

Our world needs more light as we continue to have longer days of darkness.

Last week, the LA County Human Relations Commission, of which I am a commissioner, presented its 2022 LA County Hate Crimes Report at a press conference. The findings of the report indicated that 2022 had the second-highest incidents of hate crimes in the last 20 years. During the press conference, speaker after speaker remarked that all indications pointed toward 2023 being higher, even before the October 7 terrorist attack in Israel.

As I listened to the statistics, I had an overwhelming thought: with each incident, people were attacked for who they were or what they believed. They were not just physically or emotionally attacked, but so was their identity.

I have been thinking about this idea for quite a while as stories continue to come out about how Jews and non-Jews have been scared to express themselves for fear of being “outed” or targeted.

While Hanukkah has long been considered one of Judaism’s most minor holidays (only elevated because of its proximity to Christmas), I think two themes are the most powerful in our faith.

The first is that we need to bring more light into the world during the darkest days of the year. That is why the holiday’s other name is the Festival of Lights. I believe it is why Rabbi Hillel taught that with each day, we need to add a candle to our hanukkiahs so that with each day, we dispel a little more darkness with the increased light. The second theme is about the importance of Jewish identity. There is a tradition to place your lit hanukkiah in a window to show the world that your home is Jewish. I know this can cause fear and trepidation for people, especially in times like this. However you choose to show your pride in being Jewish, I encourage you to do it.

For almost ten years, the Maccabeats, a Jewish a cappella group formed at Yeshiva University, has written and produced a Hanukkah song, usually a parody of a popular song of the time. In her recent Kveller article about the song We’re Still Here (Am Yisrael Chai), an original, Lior Zaltzman wrote, “The Maccabeats’ new tune is a much-needed source of light and Jewish joy in the darkness. Every candle we light this Hanukkah will be a reminder that, as the group sings, “we’re still here.”

On behalf of myself and our Jewish Federation’s Board of Governors and Staff, I hope you and your family have a wonderful Hanukkah full of laughter, joy, and lots of light!


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