People tend to view situations and circumstances, including the most mundane, from a personal perspective. With no attempt to put themselves in the shoes of others, they are often adamant that their viewpoint is correct. For example, in front of many shuls, including Anshei Emuna, an electric menorah or Chanukiyah is lit. The road in front of the shul follows a north/south pattern and thus the lights are lit east/west in order to enable vehicular traffic to see them. Every year I receive numerous complaints that the Menorah was set up incorrectly. Those traveling north were certain that the first candle should be on their right, while those traveling south felt quite the opposite.
If truth be told, I personally am opposed to lighting a menorah outside of a synagogue. It’s not that I fear anti-Semitism or vandalism; I am just of the opinion that we ought to follow the dictates that are on the books instead of adding to them. I am also fairly traditional and want to maintain the practices of our ancestors, who over the past two thousand years never had public displays of menorah lighting. Also, if our agenda is to promote Judaism, then we should consider hanging a large Israeli flag adjacent to the stars and stripes. The benefit would last for 365 days instead of only eight. (For those concerned about the environment the carbon footprint would be significantly reduced as well.) Perhaps we could clad the exterior of the synagogue with Jerusalem stone and publicly display our multi-millennia connection to Jerusalem and the land of Israel. Or how about a stone replica of the Ten Commandments or even a giant replica of the seven branched candelabra which is the symbol of the State of Israel and the Menorah used in the holy Temple? Maybe we can consider placing a large Star of David atop our eighty-foot evergreen tree?
I remember an episode of Family Feud hosted by Richard Dawson (yes, I am embarrassed that I watched it) where one of the questions was to name five Jewish holidays. Well, the two families hailed from Montana and Mississippi, states with a limited Jewish community, and they were able to answer only two holidays. Their number one answer was Bar Mitzvah followed by Chanukah sans the C. The commercialization of even Jewish holidays has made it commonplace to display both Christian and Jewish symbols in public settings so as not to offend anyone. (Politically, I don’t get offended when I see religious displays on public property, even if my religion doesn’t get equal billing. Though, I am certain our founding fathers, who promoted the concept of separation of Church and State, would deem legal actions by the ACLU as ridiculous and petty.)
I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Chanukah, but it’s the one holiday that truly lost its soul. The holiday is all about a return to our Jewish roots and turning the tide on Hellenization of the Jewish soul. It’s about how the few who were true to their religion were able to overcome the odds. It’s about how miracles do exist if we allow ourselves to become a receptacle to receive the blessings. It’s about the Chanukah gelt that was meant as a means of sharing the joy with others. It was never about receiving presents for eight days so our children can stand proud and gloat to their neighbors who celebrate their holiday for only one day. (I thought that is what Bar/Bat mitzvah parties were all about!) It was never meant to be an equalizer; it was meant to assure us that we need never to strive for that kind of equality.
Chanukah is about becoming an “Or Lagoyim” – a light unto the nation. However, the connotation of “goyim” doesn’t refer to other nations, it refers to the Jewish nation. Chanukah is the time when we enlighten our brothers and sisters and pave the way for their return to their Jewish roots.
Rabbi Jack Engel