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Jewish World Review Dec. 22, 2000 / 25 Kislev, 5761

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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A Time for Miracles -- THOUGH ITS RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE is slight when compared to other Jewish holidays, Chanukah is one of the most visible Jewish events on the calendar. Pressure from the ubiquitous celebrations of Christmas has elevated this festival from minor to major status in many American Jewish households. For all too many of us, Chanukah has become the Jewish Christmas. It is an excuse for gift giving and a way to participate in December festivities.

Though there is nothing wrong with giving friends and relatives gifts or supporting the retail industry, the puffing up of the holiday in order to compete with our neighbors’ festivities can be enough to give our latkes a bad taste.

But in spite of all the nonsense that has attached itself to Chanukah, we do well to encourage its observance and take it seriously.

The essence of Chanukah is the will of the Jewish people to survive and remain faithful to our traditions and religion. Its message is that standing up and being counted among those who will not bow down to the false idols of the popular culture of the day is the duty of every Jew. Far from sharing in a warm and fuzzy nonsectarian message of good will, Chanukah is actually about fighting to retain our Jewish identity.

This is something that is particularly important for contemporary American Jewry. The lights of joy that are kindled this week are beacons of identity no force can extinguish. The miracles of Chanukah are a reminder that it takes the extraordinary efforts and faith of ordinary Jews to keep the flame of Jewish civilization alive in every generation.

Just as in 165 BCE, each of us today has the capacity to strike a blow for Jewish survival that, while less dramatic than those of the sons of Mattityahu,

will nevertheless be an essential part of the unbroken stream of Jewish history. Each one of us has the opportunity to play a part in Jewish miracles, great and small, here and in Israel.

We can do this by taking part in Jewish learning and observance; by standing by the State of Israel while it is under attack; by traveling to the Jewish state and speaking up against those who seek to discredit its right to self-defense; and by giving to essential Jewish causes.

This is the Chanukah, not a blue-tinsel-version of Christmas, that we should be celebrating. With this in mind, Happy Chanukah!

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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© 2000, Jonathan Tobin