It was always only going to be eight days. It has been that way for hundreds of years. For some families, many hours of planning went into the eight days of Chanukah -from obsessing about appropriate gifts, to planning parties, arranging family lighting get-togethers and more. Chanukah came to an end last week and for many will soon be forgotten. Menorahs will be polished and placed back on their shelves, driedels stowed away for next year, and many of us will steer clear of oil-dipped food products for a month or so.
Sadly, for many, the deeper message of Chanukah will be stored away as well until next year. How can we stay connected to what Chanukah truly represents?
The festival of Chanukah is unique among the family of Jewish festivals, as it doesn’t have many strict observances or traditions that intersect with Synagogue attendance. It is also possibly one of the most celebrated Jewish festivals in America. Jews, observant and traditional, partake in some level of Chanukah activity.
Chanukah is by far the easiest of all of the Jewish festivals. There are no required long stays in Synagogue, no need to construct a temporary hut, no need to turn your house upside down in a cleaning frenzy and restrict your diet for 8 days and no staying up all night. Partaking in Chanukah is easy and accessible for all, regardless of one’s religious affiliation or Jewish knowledge. The primary Jewish law (Halacha) is the lighting of the Menorah for eight consecutive nights.
For many Jews, the idea of celebrating a Jewish festival or participating in a Jewish tradition is daunting and feels restrictive. If you have never conducted your own Pesach Seder, the thought of doing so is extremely overwhelming. If you have never had the chance to sit and eat in a Succah, you might not know where to begin.
The barriers to entry, whether real or self-imposed, are often too great for “newbies” to surmount as they endeavor to take the plunge into active Jewish life. Many feel overwhelmed, confused and lost when looking for an entry in Jewish life and practice.
Chanukah doesn’t pose such challenges. All you need is a Menorah, a box of candles and some matches and you are good to go – and all can usually be purchased in your local neighborhood supermarket. Its cheap, its easy and its fun.
As a community, we need to learn from Chanukah – as easy as it is to participate in Chanukah; it can be that easy to join a communal Passover Seder, attend a Shabbat service or attend a Basic Judaism class.
The ease of celebrating Chanukah should serve as a model for our communities.
Chanukah also represents family time. For many, the eight nights of Chanukah include more quality family time than perhaps the last six months combined. The family orientated nature of Chanukah is one its best kept secrets. A key component of the holiday is the “togetherness”, family time spent, while the candles burn. The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) teaches that making use of the candles is forbidden — one may not work in the presence of the Chanukah candles. Yet, one can spend quality time with their families. In our home, the time is best spent playing games, singing songs and using the candles as a springboard for educational discussions about Chanukah.
For eight days straight many of us enjoyed quality family time with our children. Lets be sure to continue this trend.
If we harness this message of Chanukah, we can be sure that we will inspire greater involvement in Jewish life, education and practice. In this way, Chanukah will help us move towards a brighter and more illuminated Jewish future.