Michal Cotler-Wunsh

Taking Back Chanukah

I miss Christmas. I miss the decorative, colorful lights sparkling in the night. I miss the snow that they shine on, providing a most pristine, elegant backdrop. I miss the lighthearted sense of carefree, unplanned vacation, unhampered by obligation. I miss the festive atmosphere that, capitalizing on the most primal human senses, can be heard, felt, seen, smelled and tasted.

I miss Christmas, but this year, more than ever, I am grateful for Chanukah. I realize this while in the process of lighting eight candles, one night after the next, one candle next to the other, adding a little more light as the days pass. Surrounded by family and friends, singing quietly. Taking the time to look at the candles and not ‘use them’, just as we are prescribed to do. Looking at the light that they cast in our homes, on the faces of loved ones, reflecting on the words of Jewish history that we sing about. Reflecting on the Maccabees who, thousands of year ago, fought a fierce battle against mighty powers for the right to maintain their identity as Jews in this very land that we are once again lighting candles in. Reflecting on the seven long years that they endured in order to preserve the sanctity of the temple, the holiest site to Jews, in their holiest city, Jerusalem. Reflecting on the message that we have to inculcate and model for our own children, with Jewish history repeating itself, Bayamim hahem, bazman Ha’ze – in those days, at this time. Reflecting on the resounding relevance of this message, individually and collectively. Reflecting on the significance of the message of the struggle of the few against the many.

In a fast, global, consumer reality, in which we can buy anything for our children but in which identity and belonging are so difficult to come by, the importance of these messages become clearer by the light of the candles. As parents, when talking about the difficulty of remaining true to yourself, to your values, to your moral compass, Chanukah provides the infrastructure and guidance. In the conversation with our children about the importance of not succumbing to peer pressure, it provides the opportunity to model what that looks like by simply choosing Chanukah. In the conversation about respecting difference while maintaining our own dignity, celebrating Chanukah provides a gentle comfort of familiarity, normalizing and empowering the individual. Watching the lights shine on the faces of loved ones surrounding the Menorah while reflecting on the ancient tales of history, the links of the chain connect, illuminating the path to the future.

Whatever your stance on the recent unanimous vote in the UN Security Council against Israel (with Jerusalem at its heart); wherever you may be; however you may be celebrating this holiday season, take the time to reflect on the importance of taking back your Chanukah as an integral part of your own identity. Inform yourself, gathering the information required to take a stand and do not surrender to the numbing comfort offered by moral ambiguity. As Christmas and Chanukah overlap in combined joy, take the opportunity to reflect on respecting difference while maintaining dignity.

While celebrating this holiday season, seize the opportunity to reflect on what each of us can do to enable our own, albeit small, light to shine. Take the opportunity to reflect on the clarity of one little light, and on the power that it has when joined by another and yet another. Take the opportunity to reflect on the behaviour that we each, parents, children, friends, siblings, citizens of the world and leaders, choose to model for those looking to find a light, albeit a small one, that shines the way forward. Take the opportunity to reflect on the responsibility to keep that flame burning, Bayamim hahem, bazman Ha’ze – in those days, at this time. Take the opportunity to reflect on the incredible power that one little light has, in particular when shining in the darkness. Take the opportunity and responsibility that comes with it in illuminating the way and providing a glimmer of hope to those that are immersed in darkness and cannot.

Take the opportunity to reflect on the poignant words of Leonard Cohen’s final message – Hineni – here I am. In the chain of generations; in the challenges of today; in the darkness around us. Hineni – Here I am. No matter the darkness. Knowing where I come from, taking responsibility for keeping the flame burning, shining as bright as I possibly can for others to see and join to secure the future. Hineni – Here I am.

I miss Christmas, but I am deeply grateful for Chanukah.

Chag Sameach! Happy holidays!

About the Author
The writer is a lawyer, research fellow, and policy and strategy advisor. She served as an MK in Israel’s 23rd Knesset, co-founding the International Bi-Partisan Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism.
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