Chanukah is a holiday for optimists. It's about things turning out far better than anyone could have expected. It's about daring to hope; it's about trying even though all of the odds are against you.
What would make a community believe that the few could triumph against the many? What would make someone light the oil, knowing it was only enough to last for one day? One way of telling the Chanukah story is that the Maccabees overcame great adversity with limited resources. They were high on hope. They lit the oil because they had experienced that it is possible to achieve what you want with far less than you need, and they had faith that it would happen again.
Chanukah is a holiday for pessimists. In the darkest days of winter, the shiny promises of the new year have long faded. The bright promise of spring feels far away. What would make us believe that one day's worth of oil could last for eight days? Why would we bother to light it?
The Torah asks the same question, giving voice to the doubts that would arise in the shmita year, when planting and harvesting were prohibited. "Now if you should say to yourselves: What are we to eat in the seventh year? For we may not sow, we may not gather our produce! Then I will dispatch my blessing for you during the sixth year so that it yields produce for three years. As you sow the eighth year's seeds, you shall eat of the old produce until the ninth year; until its produce comes in, you shall be able to eat what-is-old." (Leviticus 15:20-22) The harvest of one year will be enough to sustain us for three years.
The miracle of the oil, or of the shmita year, is about believing that there will be enough. It's about overcoming our pessimism, our doubts, and our cynicism and choosing hope instead. When we teach children how to swim, we ask them to trust that the water will hold them. Lean back and trust that the water will carry us. Light the oil and trust that it will burn for long enough. Take on a shmita practice: share our resources, take only what we need, let ourselves pause and be restored, and trust that there will be enough to sustain us. Let's pause from focusing on everything we wish we had and enter this season noticing the blessings in what we have. It will make us want to be more generous and light the Chanukah candles filled with gratitude.
May your Chanukah be filled with light. Chag Urim Sameach.
Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen
Director of The Center for Jewish Living
First Night, First Light
Tue, Dec 16, 4:30-6 pm/FREE
In a new community tradition, join us for an incredible Upper West Side gathering to light the first candle at the JCC. Featuring a Chanukah singalong with ShirLaLa, candle lighting, children's activities, a sustainable menorah project, and much more. This event is open to all ages. Food available for purchase. Dietary laws observed.
Free programs such as this are made possible by the generosity of donors to JCC Manhattan who deeply believe that there should be community places, spaces, and experiences that are accessible to everyone.
Join us for candle lighting and a pop up Chanukah party every night (Dec 16-24) at 5:15 pm, with a symbolic pre-Shabbat candle lighting at 2:45 pm on Fri, Dec 19.
As we reflect on gratitude this Chanukah, let us make social justice, tzedakah, and volunteerism a part of our celebration.
A Chanukah Kavanah
The American Jewish World Service created a kavanah (intention) for families to read before opening Chanukah gifts.
T'ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights is proud to partner with Fair Trade Judaica to bring you child-labor free fair trade Chanukah gelt.
Fair Trade Chanukah gelt will also be available for sale in the JCC lobby.
ENGAGE Volunteer at the Center for Special Needs Chanukah Party
Sun, Dec 14 11:30 am-1:00 pm
ENGAGE Volunteer at Chanukah Luncheon at the Riverdale Y Senior Center
Wed, Dec 17, 9:00 am-2:00 pm
ENGAGE Volunteer at the Shorefront Y
Sun, Dec 21, 2:00 pm-5:00 pm
Shabbat Shabbang Jr.
Fri, Dec 12, 5:30-7 pm
A Chanukah Celebration for Children with Special Needs and Their Families
Sun, Dec 14, 11:30 am-1 pm
Elegant Vegetarian Chanukah: Pancakes, Latkes + Risotto Cakes
Mon, Dec 15, 7-9:30 pm
First Night, First Light
Tue, Dec 16, 4:30-6 pm
20s + 30s Culinary Class: Eight Treats for Eight Lights
Tue, Dec 16, 7-9:30 pm
Infants + Young Children Chanukah Lobby Celebration
Wed, Dec 17, 10:30-11:30 am
60+ Chanukah Candle Lighting Party
Wed, Dec 17, 3:30 pm
New Family Life program: Family Life Chanukah Celebration—All Ages
Thurs Dec 18, 4:30-6 pm
Healthier Chanukah Treats
Thu, Dec 18, 7-9:30 pm
Gelty Conscience Casino:
A Generation R and Rjeneration Collaboration
Thu, Dec 18, 7:30 pm
20s + 30s Chanukah Soiree
Thu, Dec 18, 7:30 pm
Shabbat Shop: Chanukah Edition
Fri, Dec 19, 8:30 am-4 pm
Chanukah R&R Featuring Play Me a Story and havdalah and candle lighting with Lab/Shul
Sat, Dec 20, 2:00 pm-5:30 pm
Engage Chanukah Party
Mon, Dec 22, 5:30 pm-7:00 pm
Songs of Miracles and Light: A Chanukah Concert
Mon, Dec 22, 7:30 pm
Chanukah: A Meditation on Light
Tue, Dec 23, 7:15-9 pm
Chanukah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees, a small band of Jewish fighters, against the Syrian Greeks, who in the 2nd century BCE sought to force the Jews to adopt Hellenistic culture and desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem.
As they prepared to rededicate the Temple (Chanukah means "dedication"), "and re-light its menorah, the Maccabees found only one small jug of oil, enough to last one day but not for the eight days it would take to press new olive oil. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight nights.
Check back every day of Chanukah and a new treat
will be revealed.
1. Say what often goes unsaid. Notice the people with whom you interact—the person who holds the door open, or hands you your cup of coffee, or drives your bus. Say thank you.
2. Support an organization you believe in. Express your appreciation for the good work they do in the world by making a tzedakah contribution of whatever size is meaningful for you.
3. Do something nice for someone. Express your gratitude doing something generous and unexpected for someone in your life.
4. Count your blessings. A Jewish term for the attribute of gratitude is hakarat hatov, noticing the good. On your own or together with family or friends, try to list eight things for which you are grateful this Chanukah.
5. Don't ignore the hard things. Noticing and celebrating the good isn't about ignoring the pain of our lives. We need to acknowledge that as well. Without minimizing the pain, we can also recognize what we have learned from the losses we have survived.
6. Say thank you for your meal. The Jewish practice of saying blessings before and after food acknowledges the divine and the natural world. Thank the person/people who prepared your meal (show your gratitude by taking the lead on the cleanup). Where does your food come from? We are increasingly thoughtful about the pesticides used environmental footprint created in producing our food. Do you know how the workers who grew and picked your fruits and vegetables are treated? Show your gratitude by educating yourself about human rights for farm workers like the efforts of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Agreement.
7. Share. One way in which we can show our gratitude for what we have is to share it with others. Do you have an extra place at your table? Invite someone who might otherwise be alone.