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What Chanukah Really Is About (in Contrast to What Many People Think)

Celebrating Chanukah this year is just different. While we’re still eating our donuts and latkes, we’re lighting with extra prayers for hope, for miracles, for salvation. This year, it’s normal and expected to light with a heavy heart, as we continue to mourn the atrocities in Israel and the soldiers that continue to give their lives for the Jewish people.

What’s worse though, is seeing a menorah lit up on Instagram and the negative comments beneath it. It’s painful to see someone celebrating a Jewish holiday and a commenter calling it “tone deaf” given the current climate. Being a Jew, celebrating your holiday and simply existing, is not as simple as it once was. Although, let’s get real, has it ever really been without issue?

It’s infuriating to see articles like this New York mag one, in which Eric Levitz speaks about how antisemitism in America really isn’t so bad, that the Palestinians in America have it worse. Why can’t we celebrate our holiday in peace? Why can’t we just give antisemitism the conversation it deserves instead of trying to minimize it for another group? 

In reality, antisemitic incidents according to the FBI were so much higher than Muslim incidents in an unbelievable way. According to 2022 statistics, There were 2,042 reported crimes based on religion. 1,122 of them were against Jews. 158 of them were against Muslims.

Since October 7, both groups have seen a rise in incidents. For Jews, it’s been nearly a 400% increase and for Muslims, a 172% increase. It’s clear there are problems on both sides but it’s clearly unfair to say Muslims have it worse. 

Zionism is the establishment, development and protection of a Jewish nation which we now call Israel. It is impossible to be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic. If you don’t believe that Jews have the right to have a nation — especially when there are 22 Arab countries and 49 Muslim ones, there is a bigger problem going on there.

Let’s get one thing extremely clear though: What Chanukah really is and what we’re celebrating. In the second century BCE, the Greeks tried to force the Jews to accept Greek culture and beliefs. They wanted to take away the Torah, our mitzvah observance and connection to God. They almost succeeded, but a small group of Jews formed an army and miraculously defeated one of the strongest armies out there. We reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to serving God. 

The menorah concept comes from the fact that the Jews wanted to light the menorah in this Holy Temple but only found a single jar of olive oil that was pure. Miraculously again, the oil meant for one day lasted all eight days (it took eight days to create oil that met the conditions of ritual purity).

Sadly, even Jews don’t always get the story right. Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, posted his menorah on X (formally known as Twitter) saying “the Jewish people were forced into hiding. No one thought they would survive or that the few drops of oil they had would last. But they survived and the oil kept burning.”

He goes on to say, “During those eight days in hiding, they recited their prayers and continued their traditions. That’s why Hanukkah means dedication. It was during those dark nights that the Macccabees dedicated themselves to maintaining hope and faith in the oil, each other and their Judaism.”

Mmmmmmm, not exactly, Doug. There was no hiding involved. Our beliefs were almost wiped out yes, but you better be sure we fought to get them back and practice openly again. 

In fact, we light the menorah by a window (or outside in Israel), because the law around the lighting says that we have an obligation to publicize the miracle.

Another post we spotted on a personal Facebook page read, “This Hanukkah, the Palestinian people could really use the miracle of their light, food and hope lasting longer than any of us could imagine. Happy Hanukkah to all.”

Um, again, no. I heard a quote the other day that is actually a passage from our Jewish sages. It says, “He who becomes compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate.”

While no Jew wants an innocent Palestinian civilian to suffer (yes, that is the truth!!!!) and the IDF is doing everything possible to avoid as many casualties as it can, it’s sad to see more people both Jewish and not being more compassionate to the enemy.

In all the calls for a ceasefire, the blame entirely goes to Israel. There are no protests or cries to Hamas to agree to a ceasefire, to release the remaining hostages and surrender, completely turning over all their weapons. Nope. By being “compassionate” to the most cruel our world has to offer, all those involved are being completely cruel to the innocent Jewish people trying to protect themselves once and for all.

It’s especially sad when one goes the extra mile to use a Jewish holiday where we succeeded in overcoming our enemies to show that compassion. On our own holiday we can’t even support the Jews?

I saw another tweet online (that I didn’t save) that spoke about Chanukah being about the Jews trying to take over the Greeks. Jews are always trying to take over the world, it read.

Again, no. As you can read from above, that’s not at all what happened in the Chanukah story. The Jews were being oppressed and we fought for our freedom. We fought for our right to practice our own religion. We fought to just exist without anyone bothering us.

The IDF and Israel are painted as such an oppressor when in reality the only reason restrictions exist in Gaza is to protect the Israelis in Israel’s borders (this includes Arab Israelis btw). Israel isn’t creating these restrictions for fun. Israel just wants to exist in peace and when you’re next door neighbors with someone who wants you dead and writes it in their government charter, it should be pretty expected to set up some additional security measures.

So the next time you’re enjoying that donut or latke or wishing someone a “Happy Chanukah,” make sure you understand what you’re actually saying. Let us celebrate our holiday in peace. That’s all we’ve ever wanted.

The final lesson of Chanukah? Light always wins.

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