The perennial question of Chanukah: What's the real story? Was the miracle the military victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks, or was it the religious one of the oil in the Temple lamp lasting for eight fabled nights? In our day, we debate: What matters more—social justice as the primary Jewish expression or observing lifestyle mitzvot? If mindfulness meditation brings me closer to God, what do I do with the siddur, the prayerbook? If eating a plant-based diet feels like a mode of religious expression, how does that jive with the inherited traditions of keeping kosher? At the meta level: What is the intersection between the universal (living as a moral person) and the particular (living as part of a Jewish community)?
Chanukah begs this question perhaps more than any other holiday of the Jewish year— especially in a year like this one, where the coincidence of Jewish Gregorian calendars has us lighting the Chanukah lights over Christmas week. Indeed, the main reason Chanukah enjoys such prominence in our community is because of this proximity; the holiday of Chanukah is given scarcely a page of attention in the entire Talmud, while entire books are devoted to Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and Sukkot.
Of course, it is not coincidence that these winter holidays beg these questions. The winter solstice tugs at our human heartstrings, the dark and the cold triggering a primeval sense of wonder, and, perhaps, worry. Anxiety sets in when the sun seems to disappear—or what doctors call seasonal affective disorder. No wonder so many cultures create traditions celebrating light during this time. Joseph Campbell's famous four functions of mythology include what he called the "cosmological function," created to put man in accord with the cycle of nature, the rhythms of the seasons, and the features of one’s local landscape. In our case, cold, dark days inspiring us to gather around a chanukiah to watch the light shine brighter every night for a week. Think of it as the Jewish seasonal affective disorder lamp.
What is the real story of Chanukah, then? That 2,277 years after the revolt led by Judah Maccabeus against the Greek emperor Antiochus and the rededication of the Temple with the famous long-lasting oil, the Jewish community is still gathering to light the lights in the dead of winter; that despite our proximity to other communities’ ways of celebrating we continue to uphold our own. That we are teaching our children the songs and stories (like the ones here) by beloved JCC music teacher Paul Wolf) and that our senior community leaders of Engage will light candles every day in the lobby for anyone who would like to join (click here for the lobby candle-lighting schedule). We have gathered recipes for your table, as well as food for thought in the resources section of this year's Chanukah website, and are excited to offer a host of programs for all ages and stages, so that all of us on this journey of navigating the universal and the particular, the "what is this all about anyway" have plenty of opportunities to wonder, explore, and grow together.
Wishing everyone much light during the cold winter weeks. May the light from outside and from within shine brightly.
Rabbi Abigail Treu
Director, Center for Jewish Living and the David H. Sonabend Center for Israel
Your Favorite Chanukah Songs!
Nursery School Songleader Paul Wolf has recorded some of your favorite Chanukah songs, as well as the Chanukah blessings! Put this playlist on to get in the Chanukah spirit.
Rejoice in Light, Freedom,
and Miracles of Chanukah in Spiritual Dance
Sat, Dec 7, 7–9:30 pm, $15/$18
A Neo-Hasidic Symposium and Festival
Featured workshop: Hasidic (and Neo-Hasidic) Insights into Chanukah | Rabbi Dr. Erin Leib Smokler
Sun, Dec 8, noon–6:30 pm, $50
HaMakom: Lighting the Menorah Within
Tue, Dec 10, 7:30–9 pm, $20
20s + 30s Chanukah Kickoff
Wed, Dec 11, 7–9 pm, $25
Lotsa Latkes Party
Thu, Dec 12, 7–9:30 pm, $95/$105
Sweet and Savory Latkes for Chanukah
Fri, Dec 13, 2–3:30 pm, $45/$55 for one adult and one child; $20 for each additional adult or child
Chanukah Shabbang Jr.: Infants + Young Children Family Shabbat Dinner
Fri, Dec 13, 5:30 pm, $18 per person; free for children under 2
Chanukah Shabbang Jr.: JJP Celebrates Chanukah
Fri, Dec 13, 6 pm, $18
Chanukah Shabbang Jr.: Open Shabbat
(for families with children 5–10 years)
Fri, Dec 13, 6 pm, $18
Chanukah Shabbang Jr.: A Very Generation R Chanukah Celebration
Fri, Dec 13, 6 pm, $18
The Acid Watcher Chanukah Delights
Tue, Dec 17, 7–9 pm, $35/$45
Lights in the Darkness:
Chanukah Bereavement Program
Thu, Dec 19, 6:30–8 pm, Free
Seniors Chanukah Candle-Lighting Party
Mon, Dec 23, 3:30–4:30 pm, Free
Engage Chanukah Party
Mon, Dec 23, 5:30–7:30 pm, $10
Light candles in our lobby each night of Chanukah. Join us for doughnuts and other special treats.Read more
Light candles in our lobby each night of Chanukah. Join us for doughnuts and other special treats.
Night 1: Sun, Dec 22, 5 pm
Night 2: Mon, Dec 23, 5 pm
Celebrate Chanukah with Rukhl Schaechter, editor of the Yiddish Forward (the Forverts). Following the candle lighting, Rukhl and JCC volunteer, Susan Levin, will lead a sing-a-long of Yiddish Chanukah songs. Songsheets will be provided for audience participation. Enjoy "pontshkes" (Yiddish for doughnuts) and other treats.
Night 3: Tue, Dec 24, 5 pm
Night 4: Wed, Dec 25, 5 pm
Night 5: Thu, Dec 26, 5 pm
Night 6: Fri, Dec 27, 2 pm
Night 7: Sat, Dec 28, 5 pm
Night 8: Sun, Dec 29, 5 pm
Candle lightings will be led by members of Engage Jewish Service Corps, a volunteer and community-building program for people in their 50s, 60s, and beyond.