David Berkowitz, past president, Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, 917 Highland Drive:
When I was a child, my gentile friends were jealous because I got presents for eight days instead of one, while I envied them the ability to open all their presents at once. Now that I am much older and my children are adults, the gift-giving aspect of Hanukkah has been superseded by celebrating what Hanukkah stands for and commemorates.
Hanukkah commemorates the revolt of Jewish people against a powerful empire. It was a victory of the few over the many, the weak over the strong. Most Rabbis will tell you Hanukkah is a minor holiday, which is true anywhere in the world except for the United States and Israel. However, more than 80 percent of today’s Jews live in these two countries.
While there are a number of reasons, and they may vary between the two countries, the idea of fighting for and obtaining freedom appeals strongly to both American and Israeli Jews. For Americans, it reminds us of our fight for independence where few colonists defeated the greatest nation of its time. Israel, too, gained its independence in a war where it was outnumbered by its Arab opponents. Both Americans and Israelis value freedom and realize there are times where it is necessary to fight, and even die, in order to maintain it.
So how is my family going to celebrate Hanukkah? We will eat special foods and light candles each evening, beginning with one and continuing to eight. We will say the blessings and sing “Ma’oz Tzur” (“Rock of Ages”) each night. The English version of which ends with the verse “yours the message cheering, that the time is nearing, which will see all people free, tyrants disappearing.” May it be God’s will and soon.
— Send email to David Berkowitz at email@example.com.
Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, Chabad Jewish Center, 1203 W. 19th St.:
I will be celebrating Hanukkah by sharing the joys and the warmth of this holiday with as many people as I can.
I love Hanukkah because I love light, and I love light because it reaches everywhere. When you light a candle in a room, it is difficult to find a space which has not been touched by the glow. By sharing more light every day of the holiday, the night and darkness around us will just disappear by themselves.
In Jewish tradition, the menorah candles must be lit into the darkness of the night, and near a window facing out into the street. That’s because the Hanukkah lights go outward, transforming the darkness outside.
I will be celebrating Hanukkah this year in the freezing cold, huddled together with people of all ages and backgrounds, creating a united force of light on a dark, cold night. As I stand before the huge menorah being lit at City Hall this Hanukkah, I will know that these miraculous lights will shine into the darkest reaches and remind us all of miracles long ago and not so long ago.
How grateful I am to live in a country that is founded on the right to worship as we choose, in the manner in which we choose. I thank our founding fathers who crafted the Constitution of the United States of America, which recognizes our freedom to express and practice our religion and allows us to once again light the menorah publicly and freely.
This expression of freedom is warmly embraced as governors and mayors, join dignitaries across the country, in city after city, as people of all walks of life gather in the spirit of common fellowship to light this beacon of freedom. So please join me once again as we light our Can Menorah at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21, at City Hall.
Because evil and darkness do not get swept out with a broom, rather all it takes is just one candle.
— Send e-mail to Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel at rabbi@JewishKU.com.