When I first came to this country every single day I was watching Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I learned from those shows not only language, but the first, and one of the most important lessons – to love and respect your neighbors. In this country your next door neighbor represents also the neighborhood of the entire world. That is why I think it is very important to learn the culture and religions of all the people who touch our lives every day.
Jews all over the world will start celebration of Hanukkah. This morning in my home library I found the book Jewish Holiday and Sabbath Journal by Edward Hoffman, which explains the roots and traditions of Hanukkah all over the world.
The Hebrew root of the word Hanukkah means “education” as well as “dedication”. Because of that many Jewish communities globally have addressed educational issues publicly at this time of the year. Jewish educational conferences are typically held, and some scholars trace the custom of giving children small cash amounts – Hanukkah gelt (Yiddish for “money”) – to an effort to sweeten the process of Torah study.
In modern times, the ancient tradition of giving Hanukkah gelt to reward Torah study has evolved into the giving of small gifts each night. In Israel, a torchlight marathon takes place during Hanukkah from Modin, where Matthias first attacked Hellenistic idolatry, to Jerusalem. And, as a way to honor the oil of the Temple miracle, Jewish tradition has emphasized fried delicacies: in Eastern Europe, latkes or pancakes, and in Israel, sufganiyot or fried doughnuts.
Hasidism teaches that the religious dictum of kindling the hanukkiyah’s lights to make them visible from the street carries a larger, symbolic significance: each of our souls has a radiance that we need to bring out fully into the everyday world. Specifically, this means that every person has a unique essence of traits, talents, skills, and abilities that God has intended to share with others. Now is the time to reflect: What are your most precious and unique inner gifts? And how can you best share these with those important in your life?
That should apply to all of us, not only Jews.
Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish friends and happy holidays to everyone!