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The Meaning of Hanukkah This Year

Joan Myers Bondareff

The Meaning of Hanukkah This Year

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I was raised in a Jewish but non-observant family in a small town in upstate New York. As a minority in this community, I was jealous of the gifts my Christian friends received for Christmas. In response, my parents gave us gifts to celebrate Hanukkah. I always understood this to be a commemoration of the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem when the Jews defeated the Maccabees around 200 B.C.E., and they found the oil to light the Temple lasted for eight days instead of one –thus having to light candles on the menorah for the eight nights of Hanukkah.

As it turns out there are many origins of the Hanukkah story and especially the tradition of gift giving. One possibility is the defeat of the Maccabees as I recalled; the others are matching gift giving at Christmas; and one more is the Greeks giving gifts to celebrate victories. In truth, the habit of gift giving with lighting of the candles is more of a modern tradition.

I am not a very observant Jew, but I have adopted the Hanukkah gift giving tradition as one of giving love in this winter season to my family and loved ones. I light the candles and say the “bracha” (or prayer) each night and give small gifts to my daughter, nieces, and my partner of 22 years. This year, however, will be different as my partner died in October and we cannot exchange gifts this year. But I will light the candles, say the prayer, and remember all the years we lit the candles and said the blessings together.

At this time when anti-Semitism is on the rise here and around the world, I encourage everyone to light candles and speak out against the evils we are facing once again. As Rabbi Menachem Creditor (of the UJA-Federation New York) said to a Time reporter in 2019, “I think the winter months remind us that the world can be dark and Hanukkah is always a reminder that the darkness can be pierced… We can banish it with light.” This year especially, let us light candles to show the way to peace, non-violence, and the love of each other.