Federation Notes: Hanukkah – Jewish? You May be Surprised

From the time we were wearing footie pajamas (December is pretty cold in New York), my younger brother and I would lead the family in the blessings over each night of Hanukkah. We couldn’t wait to see what presents awaited us! Some of my favorites were Rock’em Sock‘em, Robots, Battleship, a National Geographic viewfinder, Spirograph and the best of all, from my Oma (grandma), our very first bicycles.

Let’s fast-forward to a talk I gave at the Selby Garden’s in Sarasota, Florida a few years ago, when as the Federation’s assistant executive director, I was asked to light the menorah along with the person who was lighting a Christmas tree. In preparation for my talk, I learned some fascinating facts about Hanukkah.

Who has the story of Hanukkah anonized in their texts? The Jews right? Wrong! The only places that the story of Hanukkah is canonized is in the Catholic and Coptic churches. Who knew?! Why is that?

Well, the story of Hanukkah, as we know, is the story of the small mighty army of Jewish Maccabees defeating the much larger Syrian Greek army and recapturing the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This was a historic war, and wars are bloody. This was not something the Rabbis, who came after the temple was finally destroyed by the Romans, wanted the Jewish people to celebrate.

Hanukkah instead became the festival of lights, celebrating the blessed oil that miraculously lasted for eight days until new oil could be made for the temple. What a wonderful choice this was.

Today, the meaning of Hanukkah’s menorah flames can be compared to the generosity of our community’s donors and the fine work of our Jewish organizations.

While the power or brightness of any one person is important, through the power of the collective, it is so much brighter!

So my Hanukkah wish to you is that we may live up to our ideal to be a “light unto nations,” and that we may continue to learn and grow in our long and wonderful Jewish heritage.

Marty Haberer is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix.

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