Hanukkah: The holiday of Jewish dignity - opinion

Hanukkah is here to remind us that only a people who insist on preserving their identity, even when they are 'few versus many.'

The Menorah Center in Dnipro, Ukraine: A vibrant symbol of the community’s renewal. (photo credit: THE MENORAH CENTER)
The Menorah Center in Dnipro, Ukraine: A vibrant symbol of the community’s renewal.
(photo credit: THE MENORAH CENTER)

Have you seen the “world’s biggest” Hanukkah menorah?

A Google search will reveal many different menorahs competing for that title. Every year there are new additions: menorahs made from balloons; light bulbs; kinetic laser; hand-carved ice; mango; you name it. They are placed on the roof of a shopping mall, set up on a breakwater by the ocean, with each attempting to attain the coveted title.

In my opinion, the contest was over years ago. This week I merited not only to see the world’s biggest Hanukkah menorah, but actually to be inside it. It’s not really a Hanukkah menorah made of eight candles, but rather a “menorah” with only seven branches, each being a tower. However, the form and the underlying message are definitely identical.

I recently visited the city of Dnipro, Ukraine, and went the municipal Jewish community center. The magnificent, enormous center is composed of seven lit-up towers, designed in the form of a menorah with seven branches. On the premises are all the Jewish community’s institutions, ranging from a shul to a medical clinic. Its obvious name: “The Menorah Center.”

I expressed my astonishment to the city’s Chabad emissary, Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzki, regarding the grandiose expansiveness of the center that he personally envisioned, planned and constructed. He explained that when he first arrived there in the early 1990s on the instruction of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he found the remnants of a vibrant, glorious Jewish community broken in spirit after decades of oppression.

 Rabbi Levi Duchman lights the Hanukkah Menorah on November 28th, 2021 at Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai, UAE. (credit: Courtesy JEWISH UAE) Rabbi Levi Duchman lights the Hanukkah Menorah on November 28th, 2021 at Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai, UAE. (credit: Courtesy JEWISH UAE)

He immediately understood that the priority – even before rebuilding devastated synagogues, or establishing a Jewish educational infrastructure – was to infuse a deep sense of Jewish pride and self-respect within the community, which had been terribly depleted during the many years of Soviet oppression. 

He spared no effort, and with great perseverance established a large conspicuous center, to improve the standing of the local residents and grant them the Jewish respect and self-confidence they so deserved. The dynamic Jewish life in the Menorah Center proves beyond a doubt that this was indeed accomplished.

THIS IS the implication of the gigantic Menorah Center situated in the heart of Dnipro. It is also the directive of each Hanukkah menorah, big or small, set on any windowsill or doorway, iconic landmarks worldwide – the declaration of Jewish self-respect. To our Jewish brethren: We are here, and we are no longer apologetic.

The days are gone when we were ashamed of who we are, and suffered feeling inferior to those around us, toward foreign cultures. When our Jewish identity was seen as a burden, we tried to assimilate and be like the Greeks, or whatever other ruling country we were in. Times have changed; we no longer hide our Judaism inside the house and feel uncomfortable expressing our Jewish identity in public.

Hanukkah is here to remind us that only a people who insist on preserving their identity, even when they are “few versus many,” “the weak against the mighty,” merit to survive and carry on – even if it appears that no more oil remains, nor strength to illuminate. The solution is not submitting to assimilation, but stubbornly continuing to guard the “jar of pure oil.” 

And when this is the approach, the miracle occurs. The small flask continues to burn and shine, against all odds. And if you don’t believe it, visit the Menorah Center in Dnipro, and you’ll see.

The writer, the Chabad representative in North Tel Aviv, is the rabbi of the Sea and Sun Synagogue.