The following Hanukkah message was sent out to the Congregation Beth El community from myself and Rabbi Rachel Marder on Saturday night, December 1, prior to the beginning of the Festival of Hanukkah:
As we prepare to light our hanukkiyot tomorrow evening and welcome in the Festival of Hanukkah, we find comfort in what these hanukkiyot represent. Jewish law is clear that one must light the hanukkiyah at the entrance of one’s home. It should be outside for all to see. Halakha, Jewish law, even stipulates that it needs be at a certain height so that passersby will be sure to see the flickering flames. More recently, it has become customary to place it in our homes in front of the windows, still on display for the public to see. Unlike Shabbat candles which had a practical purpose of providing light when it was dark, Hanukkah candles are not meant to be used to illuminate the room. In fact, one was prohibited from using the light. We do not take advantage of the light. Rather, we display it. In doing so, we fulfill the mitzvah of Pirsum HaNisa, publicizing the miracle of Hanukkah. But the menorah serves another purpose: it adds light to the darkness, literally and metaphorically, when we so desperately need it. Furthermore, publicly displaying such a ritual object declares that we will never be afraid of who we are or hide what we believe.
Twenty-five years ago during Hanukkah in Billings, Montana, a brick was thrown through five-year-old Isaac Schnitzer’s window, where he’d displayed his hanukkiyah. The local paper, the Billings Gazette, responded by printing a full-page picture of a menorah, asking residents to stand united against hate and display these menorahs in their windows. While the Jewish community made up less than 1% of Billing’s population, Christian, Muslim, and Indigenous residents of the city displayed menorahs in their windows, to publicize not just the miracle of Hanukkah, but their commitment to stand united against all forms of hate.
We light our hanukkiyot this year when it feels especially dark. We just concluded Sheloshim, the month-long mourning process, for the Tree of Life synagogue community in Pittsburgh, and we are well-aware that Anti-Semitism, and bigotry of all kinds, is on the rise. But let us not hide our hanukkiyot. Let us display them proudly and publicly. Place them in your window this year for all to see and let the lights of the hanukkiyah spread. May we never feel afraid to do so. May we celebrate doing so. And may we, together, light up the darkness for all those who need light.
Chag Urim Sameach
-Rabbi Jesse Olitzky and Rabbi Rachel Marder