Antiochus Epiphanes was different from the others. The 2nd century BCE Syrian Greek ruler did not want to exterminate the Jews, he wanted to exterminate Judaism. His method of choice was to ban Torah study, Brit Milah (circumcision), Shabbat and holiday observance, and the witnessing of the new moon–all on penalty of death. He was well-studied enough to know the fundamental practices of Judaism. Ultimately, his plan did not succeed, and we actually added a holiday to celebrate his plan’s defeat.
And so we get out our latke recipes, allow ourselves the pleasure of extra donuts, play dreidel, put the chanukkiah in the window as we sing the blessings, Zoom or Skype with loved ones as we celebrate. And yes, we give gifts.
What do you want for Chanukah this year? I want to gather with my family as we light the chanukkiah together. I want to be in a big group singing Chanukah songs. I want to eat Temple David Sisterhood’s latkes at our Chanukah dinner. I want to show preschoolers and others my dreidel collection. I want to be in Israel again this year as I was last year and walk around the neighborhoods seeing the chanukkiot in the windows. I want. I want. I want.
This year, what we want goes far deeper than even the best-wrapped Chanukah gift. This year, our wants, our longings are to celebrate as we had in the years past. Yet this year, let us follow the holiday’s lead. This year, let us deepen our commitment to one another and to Judaism. Let us proudly place the chanukkiah in the window and celebrate our heritage. Let us give gifts that enhance study and practice. Let be generous in every way so that everyone will feel that their dreidel has landed on “gimel.”
Happy Chanukah to all!
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