The Spirit of Hanukkah


Photo via My Jewish Life

If you ask any Jewish child what their favorite holiday is, nine times out of ten, they are most likely going to reply: Hanukkah. For most, Hanukkah is associated with eight days of gift giving, good food, and playing dreidel. Who wouldn’t love all of that? It’s quite obvious why this eight day festival is a favorite!

At the core of the Hanukkah story lies the infamous miracle of the oil lasting eight days as opposed to just one. After the past 18 months, I have realized that there are so many ordinary miracles existing among us in our everyday lives. Being back in school surrounded by friends and teachers after a long time of being online, waking up every morning even though it may be at 6:30 AM, having access to the COVID vaccine, having a roof over my head, and being able to freely practice my religion are just a few that come to mind. Although these things may seem ordinary or tedious, they are in fact miracles and luxuries that we should be thankful for.

As a child, I adored Hanukkah just as much as my other Jewish friends, but I’d have to admit, I definitely took advantage of my parents and their generous gift giving during the holiday season.  A ‘Hanukkah list’ was my version  of a Christmas list, as it gave me a way to fit in with my Christian friends.  In fact, there were many years where I wondered what it would be like to have a Christmas tree in my own home. Despite these attempts to fit in during the most wonderful time of the year, I still proudly celebrated Hanukkah and embraced my family’s traditions. Now, in my teenage years, I find myself valuing the holiday more than before, and exploring the significance of the story of Hanukkah  in my own life. 

To me, Hanukkah is no longer centered around the gift aspect, instead, I focus on family and togetherness. When I think of Hanukkah, I think of my extended family all crowded around my grandparents’ dining room table in Florida, lighting the menorah and reciting the blessings. I think of the smell of latkes and brisket lingering in the air as my Uncle and Zaida lead the prayers. My cousins and I light the candles, and everyone engages in a sing along of Ma’oz Tzur. I think of exchanging fun gifts such as lottery tickets, candy, and greeting cards. 

During Hanukkah we light candles on a menorah, but the most meaningful flames come from the ones we ignite in others. We can light these flames by doing “Tikkun Olam”, or , “acts to repair the world”. In the spirit of the holiday season, it is always good to give back to others and do a mitzvah every now and then. On a larger scale you can donate old clothes, give money to charity, or donate food and toiletries to our very own SLHS food pantry. On a smaller scale, you can be kind, encourage others, hold the door for someone, and help a friend if they are struggling. Little acts of kindness along the way can contribute to something bigger in the end. We start off little by little, lighting one candle each night, but this turns into the glowing nine flames we see at the end of the holiday. Similarly, one nice thing can turn into a domino effect and get bigger and bigger, to be something beautiful in the end. 

This year, despite living through the chaos of a kitchen renovation, I can’t wait to make time each night with my family to gather around our table and light the candles as one, and who knows, maybe this year I’ll finally be able to strike a match properly! Chag Sameach to all those celebrating, and may the light of the menorah inspire you to do good!