On Thursday, December 7th, 2023, as the sun sets, the eight-day Holiday of Chanukah will begin. It is a special time of year that Jews across the globe look forward to, but this year, many of us are scared, discouraged, or in some cases, not allowed, to celebrate publicly.
There are many ways I could describe Chanukah – what it is, and what it represents. It is a festival of light. It is a celebration of a victory over evil, and it’s also the realization of a miracle. The story dates back to ancient Israel, almost 2,200 years ago, when Jewish forces defeated the Seleucid King Antiochus IV. Antiochus’ army tried to desecrate the Temple in Jerusalem, and as the story goes, when Jewish forces returned to the Temple, they renewed and restored it. They found only enough oil to light the Temple lamps for one night, but the oil lasted long enough to provide light for eight nights.
Since then, Jews in Israel, and around the world, celebrate this joyous story. And in dark times, we need to celebrate, with light, more than ever.
Many religions and cultures celebrate a festival of lights at this time of year. For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, we are approaching the longest, darkest days of the year, and we gather together to bring light to the darkness. Christmas trees are covered in beautiful lights and homes are lit up with bright colours. For Diwali, people place clay lamps outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness.
And Chanukah? A Menorah, also known as a Chanukiah, is lit, with a new candle added each night until the nine-branch candelabra glows bright on the eighth night. It is traditional to place the Menorah in the home’s window, to share its warmth and light with the community.
My husband said to me yesterday, “I don’t feel safe placing our Menorah in our front window this year.” Every year, since we got married, we have lit the same Menorah, and placed it in our front window. Whether we lived in France, New York or Toronto, no matter who we celebrated with, we lit, and sang, beside the window.
But my husband, and Jews around the world, are terrified to do that this year. Hours after my husband shared his fear with me, I saw a Facebook post from an American friend about Project Menorah, started by a Jewish man named Adam Kulbersh.
Here’s what Adam wrote, “Project Menorah is a grassroots movement encouraging non-Jews to place a Menorah, along with their other decorations, in their windows this December in fellowship with Jewish friends and neighbors who might otherwise not feel safe to do so. Participants are asked to share photos of their Hanukkah decorations on social media with the hashtags #onlyloveliveshere #projectmenorah.”
Jews are feeling isolated right now, and we need our non-Jewish friends more than ever. No matter your religion, nationality, ethnicity or race, it is never okay to attack another person because of their religion, nationality, ethnicity or race. Putting a Menorah in your window tells us that you are standing up against hate.
But there’s more. While it is traditional to place a lit Menorah in the window, Jews also join together, as a community, to light the Menorah throughout Chanukah. Some people celebrate at parties, or they stand side by side with non-Jews, in public spaces, to light a large candelabra. It is perfectly normal at this time of year to see a Menorah at city hall, in parks or large public squares. Remember, a central part of Chanukah is to bring light to the world.
So, I was further upset, last night, when my brother-in-law, who was born and raised in Moncton, New Brunswick, and owns a home there, sent me an article from CBC. This was the headline, “Menorah won’t be displayed outside Moncton city hall for first time in 20 years.” City council, in this small city in eastern Canada, decided, behind closed doors, according to the mayor, that, “City hall should be neutral as far as religion is concerned.”
A Menorah brings light and joy to all who see it. The public lighting of a Menorah is a way that a community, Jews and non-Jews, can come together to celebrate tolerance and the values we share as human beings. I don’t know what dark forces came over the city council of Moncton, but they should feel ashamed.
I don’t always ask you to take action when I write, but today, I’m asking for a few small favours:
Please, Light a Menorah
No matter what you celebrate, or how you celebrate, join Jews around the world from Thursday, December 7th to Thursday, December 14th, to light a Menorah, and place it in your window. Or, if you don’t have one, follow these steps, recommended by the Project Menorah team. You can also reach out to a Jewish friend and light the Menorah with them one night.
Write to the Mayor of Moncton
We need to let the Mayor of Moncton know that what she did is not okay. Email Mayor Dawn Arnold, and politely explain to her how her decision is offensive. She can be reached at email@example.com. Please copy firstname.lastname@example.org.
Help us Bring Them Home
While almost 100 people who were kidnapped on October 7th were released over the past week, over 100 people are still being held captive by terrorists in Gaza. There are still women and children, men young and old, people with citizenship from countries across the globe, who are hostages. Their lives are in danger. Many of them need medical help, and they are all malnourished. Write to your local government. Hang a poster of a hostage. Attend a rally. Tell your friends that terrorism can’t win.