Latkes are yummy and presents are fun, but are there ways I can make Chanukah more meaningful?
Jill Cogan / God and Prayer / December 10, 2006
December 10, 2006
19 Kislev 5767
Latkes are yummy and presents are fun, but are there ways I can make Chanukah more meaningful? By Jill Cogan
With winter right around the corner, the stores are beginning to fill up with everything that we need for the holidays. One holiday sticks out in everyones mind Chanukah! To kids, Chanukah means candles, latkes, gelt, dreidles and, most of all, presents. My question is: whats the big deal? Why does everyone emphasize Chanukah? Its not even in the Torah!
Chanukah is the Festival of Lights. During the eight days of Chanukah, we celebrate the victory of the Maccabees, the rededication of the Temple and commemorate the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days. Although this holiday is not one of the most important holidays in Judaism, we should still celebrate it.
There is so much we can do to make Chanukah more meaningful than presents and gelt. For example, studying the full story of Chanukah enables us to gain a better understanding of the true story. We can also follow the traditions of Chanukah by eating foods such as sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and latkes (potato pancakes). These foods are fried in oil, reminding us of the oil that lasted eight days. Many families have decorations for Chanukah, but the most important decoration is often left out. Publicizing the miracle of Chanukah is a mitzvah, so the chanukiyah should be placed in a window where others can see it. The visual representation of the chanukiyah constantly reminds us of the story, and makes the holiday a bit more meaningful and resonant in our lives. Another way to make Chanukah more meaningful is to bring family and friends together for a traditional Chanukah celebration complete with the lighting of the candles, games of dreidel, Chanukah songs and reflections on the miracles that have happened in your own lives. With a little work and a lot of fun, Chanukah easily can become more meaningful.
During Chanukah, we celebrate the religious freedom that we gained when the Maccabees won the war and returned us to the Temple. Regaining the Temple in Jerusalem was the ultimate gift because it gave us religious freedom and a holy place to, once again, call home. The gifts that we get on Chanukah are insignificant compared to the gift of freedom. Throughout history, the Jewish people have constantly fought for their freedom, and Chanukah is another example of our victory. As Jewish teenagers in North America, we should be grateful for the fact that we are able to practice Judaism freely. Just as it was a miracle that the Maccabees were victorious, and that the oil lasted for eight days, it is a miracle that we are able to live freely as Jews. This year, we should all take some time and reflect on the true meaning of Chanukah.
Related Questions What is the tradition for lighting the Chanukah candles? On Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, we light candles each night to celebrate the miracle that God performed for the Maccabees. We begin with one candle on the first night, and add one candle each night for eight nights. In addition, we light the shamash each night which we use to light the other candles. The candles should be added to the menorah from the right to the left, but they are lit from left to right. The blessings (check out the link in the resources section) are recited each night with the lit shamash in hand, after which the candles are lit immediately. The first two blessings are sung every night, the third only on the first night .
Exchanging gifts is not mentioned in the story of Chanukah, so why do we get them? Traditionally, gifts were never given on Chanukah. Gelt, which used to consist of small amounts of money, was given when playing dreidel, but people did not exchange gifts. In todays world, it is difficult to go anywhere during the holiday season without seeing references to Christmas and gifts. As a result of this, many Jews adapted and mixed with society, and thus the idea of giving gifts on Chanukah developed.
Taking Action Share the Celebration You can do many different things to spread the message of Chanukah and make it more meaningful. Simply explaining the story and the miracle associated with it is a great way to spread the message of this holiday. Temple Youth Groups (TYGs), Jewish clubs at your school or even your Hebrew school class can run programs and activities based around the story of Chanukah. Even throwing a traditional Chanukah party can be a fun way to educate others and celebrate the miracle of Chanukah.
Help others find freedom As we celebrate our own freedom during Chanukah, it is also important to remember that others are not free. The Religious Action Center (RAC), on its website, has a social justice guide for the holiday, Sustaining the Light. Use the holiday as a call to help others work for and celebrate their own freedom.
Jill Cogan hails from Cherry Hill, NJ where she is a senior at Cherry Hill East. Jill has grown up at Temple Emanuel, where she is a proud member of TEFTY (Temple Emanuel Federation for Temple Youth). She is currently serving her second term as the Religious and Cultural Vice President of NFTY-Pennsylvania Area Region (PAR). A URJ Camp Harlam alumna, Jill participated in NFTY in Israel in the summer of 2005. Outside of NFTY, Jill is extremely active in theatre and choir. She enjoys playing guitar, a good cup of coffee, and spending time with her friends. Jill is excited to go to college next fall to pursue a degree in psychology and Jewish studies, and one day plans to attend Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion as a rabbinical student.