Happy December Temple Beth Israel,
As we settle into winter, I’d like to concentrate on the concept of community more than I usually focus on, during this beautiful yet difficult season. For many of you who haven’t stayed through a North Country winter in quite some time, the long grueling winters, even with climate change, can seem to last forever, or at least that was my experience during my first winter. The bitter frigid temperatures add insult to injury when all our friends have gone into hibernation or migrated down south for warmer latitudes. With many folks high-tailing it out of town when the calendar turns to December, the cold weather months can often seem lonely and isolating. Area restaurants close up shop or reduce their hours, and there are less opportunities to gather and celebrate life.
Yes, we have the “holidays” and the non-Jewish holidays always seem to uplift everyone’s spirits. Christmas can be such a joyous occasion; a moment frozen in time when folks seem to suspend all grievances and offer a loving hand of peace and compassion. Yet, it isn’t our holiday, and it too arrives with an odd array of emotions for many Jewish folks. While we might be invited to a Christmas dinner and completely and totally love our non-Jewish friends and family, for those of us who don’t identity as Christian, there is another painful reality that our holidays aren’t celebrated by a majority of Americans, nor are they really understood well by non-Jews. Chanukkah is not Jewish Christmas; it’s not even close. Christmas is a fundamental Christian holiday, predominately rooted in belief; Jesus, the Christian Messiah’s birth. Chanukkah, like many but not all Jewish holidays, is grounded in history and tradition, yet enshrined in a decent amount of belief. Chanukkah is a minor non-Biblical holiday that commemorates the Jewish military victory over the Hellenistic Jews. In fact, it was more of a civil war between traditional Jews and Greek Jews who embraced paganism. The oil lasting 8 days is a matter of faith. I was always curious as to when and by whom was it decided to make Chanukkah into a major Jewish holiday?? However significant or over-hyped Chanukkah may be, the holiday has clearly taken center stage in the Jewish holiday hierarchy over the last 75 years or so. As is often the case in Jewish texts and celebrations, what’s old is new again, and Chanukkah raises questions about Jewish identity, assimilation, conversion out of our faith, the necessity for Jewish observation, and Zionism.
What will this year’s Chanukkah celebration bring with the Jewish world seemingly under attack? Will our local SUNY student body pause their chanting “From the river to the sea,” long enough to join their fellow Jewish students in our community wide menorah lighting held on Thurs, Dec. 7th in Trinity Park? Where will all of our “Never again,” allies from all the various social justice movements, which Jews have generously supported over the years, be on the first night of Chanukkah? It remains to be seen, but I know where the Jews will be on that night.
This is why the Jewish community and all the efforts and energy associated with creating Jewish community are so important to our people during these difficult times. What our Jewish community offers is a warm, loving, safe space, where we can turn to one-another for a sense of security and frankly, sanity. We are strong and resilient. We have overcome the lonely isolation from years of covid, and this war too will eventually end, but I strongly encourage in-person events this winter, whenever weather and geography allow. When we are present, ideally in person but even online, we are able to learn together, laugh with one another, mourn our losses communally, and share our simchas. Please, continue to check-in on your friends during the next few months. As always, feel free to slip into a Shabbat service or tune-into our zoom experience (fingers crossed) on the road. “Never again,” means today, but we must continue to build and shape the most reliable support group we have-the Temple Beth Israel community!
Chodesh Tov and Chag Chanukkah Samaech/Happy Chanukkah,
Rabbi David Joslin- email@example.com