Thursday, December 22, 2016

Your Lights and Mine

Your lights are beautiful, a symbol of a prayer for peace on earth and goodwill towards others. They are full of color and life and brighten up the streets of your cities, even on the darkest, coldest of times.

My lights are more modest. Outside of Israel, they are put in the windows of our homes, unless we are afraid to draw too much attention and send a message that a Jew dwells within. In Israel, they fill the windows of apartment buildings, greet us from the rooftops, and twinkle in the early evening at many intersections and gates of our cities.

Your lights come on sometimes as early as the beginning of December (sometimes even earlier) and continue even into January.

My lights last for eight nights. Only eight nights. Always eight nights.

Your lights...where do they come from, how old is the tradition? I have to admit that I didn't know and so I looked and found several articles that say the tradition of Christmas lights date back to the 17th century. At first, they were candles  but by 1900 the introduction of the electric lights became more widespread (interesting side note - in 1908, insurance companies decided not to pay insurance claims for fires that started from candles on a Christmas tree. Source: https://goo.gl/mNqPyA).

My lights...where do they come from, how old is the tradition? Well, I knew most of this, but to be fair and accurate, I looked and found several articles that say the tradition of Chanukah lights date back to the year 136 B.C.E. (over two thousand years ago - source: https://goo.gl/6di3a0).

My lights come not from peace, but from war. More precisely, a triumphant battle against an enemy that sought our destruction, but more, the annihilation of our faith. They destroyed our Holy Temple, vanquished our land and exiled our people...and we went to war, to battle and in victory, we rededicated ourselves to our God and lit the purest of oil that should have only lasted for one day and yet it burned for eight.

Two thousand years, in our modest way, we celebrate that dedication, that victory.

My lights are no less holy than yours, nor are they any less impressive for their modesty. They are different and most important of all, as your lights are yours, my lights are mine. This year, we will both be celebrating, you according to the solar calendar and me with my lunar one.

Though the lighting of the menorah was born out of war, it burns bright each year as a sign of devotion and commitment.

And here is my request. Put up your tree, plug in your lights. Do it with all the joy and love in your hearts. Celebrate the light and the life - as we do and may your family be blessed.

But...

Please...

My lights are mine. There is no tradition of a tree in our religion; no colored lights strung on the branches of the tree we do not have. There is no such thing, nor is there any need, for a "Hannukah bush." The only bush I can think of in Jewish history is the burning bush that was a sign of God's presence and not something we attempt to emulate in our homes.

Please don't put my star, my menorah on your tree. You are not honoring my tradition that way, you are blurring the importance and the modesty of what we are about. Please look at my menorah and smile; recognize my Jewish star for the symbolism that is there and keep is separate from yours.

Way back in high school, the principal of the public school I attended put up a Christmas tree inside the high school building. I don't believe, I didn't believe that he should do that and so I asked him. His response was that it wasn't a Christmas tree, but a "Sharing Tree" on which he planned to put a small menorah.

I told him that my tradition was no less than that of the Christians and if he was to put a menorah on, it should be the same size as the tree - clearly an impossibility. I also told him that as principal, it was his job to educate children. Why didn't he put up a Sharing Chair? A Sharing Refrigerator? Why a tree? The answer, clearly was because it was the Christmas season and the tree was Christmas tree.

As I explained my anger, I flagged down a teacher who was not Jewish and asked him what this thing was. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "It's a Christmas tree."

Your lights...not mine.



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