Once again, it’s the time of year when Jews worldwide celebrate what is known as the Festival of Lights. Hanukkah begins at sundown Sunday, December 6, and continues for the following eight days. It is traditionally a time to celebrate a centuries-old event as well as a time of hope for the future.
This year, that hope is perhaps the most important part of the celebration.
Public and private menorahs will be lighted throughout this country and around the world, to commemorate an event that occurred in the second century BCE and has held a beloved place in Jewish tradition through succeeding generations. It is observed with joy, with songs and special foods, with games and gifts for children, family and friends, and with prayers and continuing hopes for freedom and religious liberty.
Hanukkah is, in some ways, the celebration of victory over oppression. In a battle that lasted for three years, a small band of Jewish fighters won victory over Greco-Assyrian oppressors under Antiochus. When it came time to cleanse and rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem, the Maccabees found only enough purified oil to burn for one day. Miraculously, according to tradition, the oil burned for eight days, the time necessary to prepare more.
In December 2014, the parents of journalist Steven Sotloff, who was beheaded by ISIS the previous August, lighted the public menorah in their Florida home town to inaugurate the Hanukkah celebration. Less than a month ago, Shirley and Arthur Sotloff spoke to a journalism class at the University of Central Florida. It was just after the reported drone killing of “Jihadi John” who was thought to be responsible for their son’s murder, and just after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
According to news reports in the “Orlando Sentinal,” they did not mention the Paris killings, but rather spoke of their son’s love for the Middle East, his hopes for all people and for peace, and how his experiences strengthened his Jewish faith. Afterwards, according to a report in the “Orlando Sentinal,” an Egyptian-born student told the Sotloffs how their slain son has inspired her.
In light of recent events in San Bernardino, Cal., it may be fair to wonder about the emotions that will surround this year’s Hanukkah celebrations around this nation and throughout the world. As in centuries past, perhaps, thoughts will once again turn to the joy and the hope inherent in this festival of lights.