Some people say Ha-nukha, and some people say Cha-nukah, but it's holiday season and Hannukah is upon us, which means Jews everywhere are going to be lighting menorahs, playing with dreidels, giving presents and eating latkes. But besides the spinning the dreidel and raking in the Hannukah Gelt, there is a deep message to this holiday that is very relevant to today. Hannukah is called the "festival of lights."
Hannukah celebrates the story of a small group of people changing the system when everyone else thought it was impossible. Back in the day, during the time of the Hannukah story, ancient Israel was considered to be a vassal state of the Greek-Syrian empire (a major world power in those days), the Jewish religion was being outlawed, circumcision and celebrating Shabbat were against the law under penalty of death, and the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, had been defiled and turned into a temple to Zeus.
A small group of Jewish warriors, known as the Maccabees, rebelled against the rule of the Greek-Syrians and, against all odds, succeeded in igniting a revolution that drove them out from the land. This is where the Menorah, the symbol of Hannukah comes in. The final victory for the Maccabees came when they removed the foreign statues from the Holy Temple and rededicated it to the Infinite One. The word "hannukah" comes from the word "to dedicate." The symbol of the Holy Temple was the seven branched menorah. The story goes that the Maccabees rekindled the lights of the menorah and a miracle occurred because even though there was only enough oil found to burn for one day, the light of the menorah burned for eight days.
Back to today, when you're lighting the menorah this Hannukah, you're not just playing with a window ornament that happens to use fire -- you're plugging into a story that is thousands of years old, you're making a statement that you are going be a light in the darkness, that you are casting your vote with hope and change even when it seems impossible, that you stand for Jewish continuity even in the face of adversity.
We are also living in times of darkness, where change seems impossible, but there are also small groups of people who are working to make a difference. There is a famous quote by Margaret Meade, "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world, it is the only thing that ever has."
To celebrate the eight nights of Hannukah, below is a list of eight inspiring organizations already shining lights of positive change for the Jewish community and the world. May Hashem bless us to plug in to our inner light and be the change we want to see.