It is a reflection of the times in which we live, I think, that younger generations know what little history they do from listening to pop culture figures. Comedian Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah song” is one such example.
Actually, the holiday is quite interesting, and highlights a critical time in Jewish history. It is an eight-day commemoration of the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, in the second century B.C. This period marked the last time of Jewish sovereignty in the Land until the last century.
Also known as the “Festival of Light,” Hanukkah recalls the courage of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, who opposed the pagan rule of Antiochus Epiphanes. The holiday commemorates the purification of the Temple, and features the lighting of a Menorah; the observance takes place for eight nights, beginning on the 25th day of Kislev (from the Hebrew calendar).
According to Josephus, when the Maccabees entered the Temple complex, they found that the ritual oil had been profaned, and they found one jar that had been sealed by the high priest—enough for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, thus the miracle. It took eight days to press olives for a new supply of oil.
A dear friend of mine in Israel lives near the graves of the Maccabees, at Modi’in. It is one more reminder of the link between the Jews of Israel today, and their forefathers.
Five years ago, another dear friend in Maryland invited me to her family’s home for Hanukkah, and it was a tremendous blessing for me. The only gentile at the gathering, I saw how deeply moving the remembrance is, and a local rabbi recalled miraculous stories from the 1948 War of Independence—miracles that enabled to Jews to keep a foothold in the Old City of Jerusalem, which paved the way for re-unification in 1967.
The story of Hanukkah is quite dramatic, and if our point of entry today for remembering is a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn, so be it.
Here’s to the Light.