When Judah Maccabee first lit the candle in the rededicated Temple in Jerusalem, he probably didn’t think it would be repeated over 2,000 years later on a beachfront in Mordialloc, Melbourne. But it still endures, and this week saw Jews from Australia and among the world celebrate the festival of Hanukkah.
The public lighting of the candle for the first night of Hanukkah takes places yearly on the Mordialloc beachfront, located 24 kilometers south of the center of Melbourne. We are fortunate that Australia is a very open society and such public celebrations like this are common place.
With so much assimilation in the Diaspora, it is refreshing when events like this do occur, as it serves as an answer to the often gloomy statistical data that comes out in regard to Jewish assimilation and intermarriage. It offers a gesture of hope that despite the "disappearing Jew" syndrome, there remains an often strong reaffirmation of the Jewish people and our place in the world – wherever that is.
But it also serves another purpose – a purpose that reaches far beyond these Australian shores. It is the constant and enduring link between the Jews of today and the Jews who came before. Our link with the past is what secures our future – not so much in terms of physical security, but in a sense of spiritual security. By virtue of the fact that we can both mourn and celebrate events that have taken place many thousands of years ago is not only a testament to the memory of the Jewish people, but also to the inherent belief in our customs and ways – a belief that often transcends all levels of observance from the most secular to the most observant. We may argue about details, but even today, most Jewish men will be circumcised and most Jewish homes will at least have a mezzuzah.
Jews today seem to have to constantly fight for their legitimacy through anti-kashrut laws in Europe to ‘justifying’ our homeland in Israel, but we should always remember that we’ve kept our customs alive for so long, not because they were easy or convenient, but because on a level far deeper than our conscious minds, we genuinely believe in it. In a modernized world, all of us might not follow every law or every custom, but deep in our inner core, the very essence of who we are remains as strong as it was when the Maccabees shook off the yoke of oppression to stand proud again.
Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights, and the light that was first lit all those years ago may have burnt for just eight days, yet its radiance has continued for thousands of years more.