One of the key lessons of the Hanukkah story is that if we are to create an enduring future, we must have the wherewithal to fashion sacred moments here and now that uplift our spirits and have the potential of becoming touchstones.
You see, for the past few years during Chanukah we have strapped a large menorah to the top of our van. Depending on where you live, you may have seen this. But for the general public of Philadelphia, this definitely draws attention.
Chanukah, known as the Festival of Lights, uses a hybridized version of the original menorah -- eight cups instead of seven, to hearken back to the original as well as to commemorate the great miracle of the single cruise of oil lasting for eight days.
On Hanukkah we wish one another, Hanukkah same'ah! 'Happy Hanukkah!' Because it's a celebration, a remembrance of something good, a time in our mythic past when our ancestors saw miracles . . . and needed them.
On Shabbat Hanukkah (this year, Nov. 29-30), we read an extraordinary passage from the Prophet Zechariah. Speaking during the Babylonian Captivity, he envisions the future Great Menorah, taking its sacred place in a rebuilt Holy Temple.
At first glance, this Talmudic debate smacks of petty irrelevance. Is this what a religious life really demands? Why should which side I place the hannukiah, and how close it may or may not be to the door, matter at all?
The Miami Heat hosted a Jewish heritage night at the basketball team's Dec. 12 game at American Airlines Arena, with tens of thousands in attendance. How odd, I thought, to celebrate Hanukkah in a sports arena, given that the concept of sports is emblematic of Greek culture.
This Hanukkah, when Jews light their menorahs, we should remember that the item we are lighting holds a large cultural and historical significance. It symbolizes not only the miracle of the lasting oil, but also the miracle of the surviving Jewish people.
As the attendant to the light, the Shamash is responsible for lighting all the others. So too, each of us is a light. We have the choice as to whether we live from that lit-up place or ignore our light.
Taking a symbol like the menorah, which represents that struggle of adhering to faith in the face of an oppressive Greek culture that believed everything should be secular and rational, and redefining it as having secular connotations contradicts what the menorah represents.
We will be celebrating Hanukkah once again this year, lighting candles, eating latkes, opening presents and spinning dreidels. We'll sing Hanukkah songs. We'll talk about the holiday a lot, but I'm not going to tell my girls the story of Judah the Maccabee. Not yet.
Nature has parked itself on small sections of our city's corner. Soon, the trees will be gone, my son observes, sold to homes where they will decorate living rooms and be adorned with bows, ornaments, trinkets and gifts. His living room will be empty of such wonder.