Reprinted with permission from CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning & Leadership. Originally published for Hanukkah 2001.
On the nights of Hanukkah, Jews around the country will remember a little pitcher of olive oil. In particular, we will recall a moment from the second century BCE when one of the Temple priests searched through the rubble of the vandalized sacred house.

In the midst of the chaos wrought by the attackers he found a single, miraculously undisturbed, container of oil. Surrounded by the wreckage, in an hour of despair, simply pouring the oil into the tarnished menorah and pausing to re-light it was an act of hope and renewal.

For years to come, people around the world will remember the image of the American flag waving in an enormous pile of twisted metal and debris in the heart of Manhattan. One rescuer, finding the flag in that rubble, broke free from the collective sense of anguish to affirm life. Like the first lights of Hanukkah, the raised flag emerged as a symbol that the attack would not succeed in defeating the spirit of a resilient and determined people.

These nights of Hanukkah are a perfect time for all Americans to recall the actions of the past months that returned us to an affirmation of life -- stories of bravery; phone conversations with friends and family; walks in the woods or by water; personal reflections read or heard; music; and moments of silence, meditation and prayer.

We also might recall the public gatherings--the moving benefit concerts, the interfaith vigils, and the meetings and gatherings in our local communities which expressed our collective grief and our desire to move forward.

On Hanukkah, we have eight days to dedicate ourselves to sustaining this renewed sense of public engagement and to continue the quiet acts that matter: caring for one another with sensitivity, pausing to appreciate our daily sustenance, and loving life in a way that will give us strength through the times ahead.

An interdenominational team of rabbis and scholars created the following ways in which we can dedicate each night of Hanukkah to an act of heroism. We began with the simple premise that Hanukkah lights remind us of those who sowed light in dark times. This year, as we reflect on countless acts of courage, determination, and perseverance, we dedicate each night to a set of heroes.

  • First Night: Fire fighters, police officers, and everyday citizens who gave their lives to save others.
  • Second Night: Doctors, counselors, volunteers with the Red Cross and others who were called on to heal, comfort, and support those individuals and families who have suffered unbearable loss.
  • Third Night: Government and community leaders who transcended ideological differences to build national strength and unity.
  • Fourth Night: Parents and teachers who helped children to cope with new fears with calm and empathy.
  • Fifth Night: Rabbis, priests, ministers, imams and other religious leaders who used their traditions to bring people together, to affirm our common humanity, and to nurture life.
  • Sixth Night: Men and women who have been called up to national service, who will not be with their families for the holidays this year so that they may protect us all.
  • Seventh Night: Allies around the world, who have been outspoken in their condemnation of terror.
  • Eighth Night: All of us who, through our daily actions, have insisted that we will vigilantly move on, strengthening America's commitment to diversity and pluralism, ensuring that the religious and intellectual freedoms that we have fought for will continue to be a light unto all nations.
  • In one of the classic retellings of the Hanukkah story, we read: "They entered the sanctuary, rebuilt the altar, repaired the walls, replaced the sacred vessels, and were engaged in the rebuilding for eight days." May we, as a nation, celebrate this Hanukkah as a time of both spiritual and communal rebuilding.

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