Shine a light in the darkness this Hanukkah

This Hanukkah, the Shine A Light campaign is a national initiative that aims to create a collective light of celebration by spreading the Jewish joy of Hanukkah.

 RABBI YEHUDA Teichtal and German Health Minister Jens Spahn at a Hanukkah ceremony last year in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. (photo credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)
RABBI YEHUDA Teichtal and German Health Minister Jens Spahn at a Hanukkah ceremony last year in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.
(photo credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)

When Hanukkah comes along, most of us know the drill: the presents are bought (mine may or may not be wrapped), the candles are ready to be lit and the debates over sour cream or applesauce with the latkes are in full swing (the correct answer is yes). Hanukkah is a time of joy, of light and of pride. It’s a holiday that in many ways is unique for American Jews. Instead of celebrating exclusively in synagogues, or in our kitchens, or in our charming attempts at backyard camping (thanks, Sukkot), we are commanded to fulfill the mitzvah of this holiday by publicizing the miracle.

For the rabbis in Talmudic times, the spiritual goal of Hanukkah is to celebrate outwardly – to the point where other commandments are explicitly secondary. So the hanukkiah is lit and placed in our windows, or is intentionally lit in public spaces. With an increasing number of Hanukkah products on the market, we’re able to wear matching light-up pajamas, buy our pets themed toys and generally display the overall merriment of the season. While the winter is known for being a time of darkness, with eight nights worth of candles, we are well-equipped to bring a little extra light.

But in the recent past, it seems like it’s not just the seasonal change that’s bringing a layer of darkness. We’re also grappling with the seemingly ever-growing specter of antisemitism and hate in general. In 2021, nine out of ten American Jews reported believing that antisemitism is on the rise, with four out of ten reporting to have changed their behavior (wearing Jewish clothing, using phrases that would ‘out’ them as Jewish) in public as a result. From teens hiding their Judaism on social media to verbal and physical threats to Jews from New York to California, American Jewish life, while thriving and flourishing by many measures, is now marked by growing fear and uncertainty.

STANDING GUARD ahead of a solidarity gathering after five people were stabbed at a Hanukkah party in Monsey, New York, December 2019 (credit: AMR ALFIKY/ REUTERS)STANDING GUARD ahead of a solidarity gathering after five people were stabbed at a Hanukkah party in Monsey, New York, December 2019 (credit: AMR ALFIKY/ REUTERS)

Jewish practices and observances should not be centered around fear and defiance. Rather, the wisdom, rituals and learning that mark the Jewish experience are meant to bring value, joy and transcendence to our lives. Jewish life and learning are connection points throughout and across time – linking us with others around the world and through history who are part of a shared collective experience. And when it comes to passing on the value of a Jewish identity to our children and future generations, we want to do so not because of external hatred, but from a lens of going from strength to strength – bringing the strong foundation of Jewish values, history and stories to construct a strong Jewish future.

This Hanukkah, the Shine A Light campaign is a national initiative that aims to create a collective light of celebration by spreading the Jewish joy of Hanukkah. It’s intended to be a countermeasure to the growing trend of antisemitism and acts of hate against Jews. Antisemitism still exists in ‘polite’ conversation as well as in more dangerous ways, and Shine A Light provides information to help everyone recognize it and take action. Whether in the workplace, in a classroom or on a campus, online or elsewhere in the world, there’s so much to learn and so much we can do to inspire awareness and action. Our goal is to embrace this season, and this holiday, with opportunities to connect, reflect and embody a Jewish experience that feels authentic and joyful.

On Hanukkah we embrace chocolate, candles, songs and togetherness in a season that can be otherwise cold and dark. It’s also a time of cultivating strength. Stemming from the story of the Maccabees, who rebuilt Jewish life after a period of destruction, it’s our opportunity to take strength in our Jewish identities, and to find spaces to come together as families and communities to let that strength radiate out to bring an extra measure of light to the world for the eight nights and beyond.

The writer is senior director of Knowledge, Ideas, and Learning at The Jewish Education Project, a proud content partner to the Shine A Light initiative. More information about the campaign and the parenting resources can be found at https://shinealightjewishparent.com/.