In my last post, I spoke about the uncomfortable reality of being a non-Christian in a country that mistakenly believes its religious identity (which doesn’t exist) is synonymous with its civic identity. I also alluded to a conversation with a friend who assumed Chanukah is a much bigger deal than it is–but instead of making my misconception corrections then, I decided to make them their own post.
A long, long, long long long time ago (approximately 2176 years to be precise), there was a man named Judah HaMaccabee. Judah the Hammer. How quaint, you know? He led the Maccabean revolt against the Syrian-Greeks and with his small army, a miracle occurred and this band of Jews became victorious over their oppressors. The Temple was salvaged, cleansed, purified, rededicated–in fact, that’s how Chanukah gets its name! “Chanukah” literally means “dedication.” Thus the holiday began. Long before presents. Long before vague attempts to Chrismastize the holiday. Long before commercialization could be considered.
Something special happened then. Something inconceivable in today’s world.
It’s a miracle. There’s nothing else quite like it. When the candle burns down, when the wick is burned from both ends, the flames last longer than we ever expect them to survive. And we survive. We shine.
It’s a small miracle but a fitting one that Chanukah this year begins on World AIDS Day. It’s a meeting of miracles and menaces, of celebrations and somber memorials. We burn candles of blue and white, and we drape ourselves in ribbons of red to remember.