In December, when the dark nights grow longer and longer, Jews throughout the world kindle the candles of Hanukah, also called the Festival of Lights: an eight day Jewish celebration of hope and the human miracle of religious fortitude, faithfulness, and perseverance; and power of faith and trust in God in overcoming disappointment, despair and defeat during years of oppression and persecution.
Over the last three or four generations, Hanukah has increasingly become an important holiday for Jewish families in Europe, and in North and South America as well as Australia. This is especially true for Jewish children.
For many centuries during the Middle Ages, Jewish children went to Jewish schools, lived in Jewish neighborhoods, and had very little contact with non-Jewish children. This all changed in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially after WW2.
Jewish children, from an early age, now became increasingly immersed in the national and religious culture of the Christian world around them. Their natural tendency to want to fit in led many Jewish children to desire to copy non-traditional ways in general, and Christmas practices in particular.
December became the month when Jewish children felt left out if they did not participate in everyones Christmas celebrations; or had mixed conflicting emotions if they did.
Hanukah [10-18 December this year] , with its celebration of the value of standing up for your religious freedom to celebrate your own religious traditions, became an important event in the education of Jewish children to be proud of their religious heritage.
All of this can be easily understood by first, second and third generation Muslim families living as a small minority in the West, whose ancestors grew up in Muslim majority countries.
In addition, recent attempts to outlaw circumcision in California, Germany, Sweden and other places, by people who think it is barbaric, follow the path of the Syrian Greek king whose decree outlawing circumcision was the final outrage that led to the revolt of the Maccabees.
Indeed, the Festival of Lights is also important for Christians and Muslims because it does not make any difference to the lamp if it is half full or half empty; but it makes all the difference to us humans in this world. As the Qur’an states: “Allah is an ally of those who believe. He brings them out from darknesses into light.” (2:257)
The oppression of Judaism by Antiochus IV, the Syrian Greek king, was the world’s first known attempt at suppressing a minority religion, but unfortunately not the last. Other well known attempts were the three century long Roman persecution of Christianity, and the terrible persecution of Prophet Muhammad (s) and his followers by the majority of the pagan Arabs in Makkah.
All three religions emerged from their varying periods of persecution stronger than ever, and this is the theme of the ongoing spiritual lesson of the Hanukkah lamp that once lit by faithful believers, filled with hope and trust in God; lasts longer than anyone else thinks possible.