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The past two months have been a painful period in Jewish history. On Oct. 7, as Jews around the world were celebrating the holiday of Simchat Torah—rejoicing with the Torah—the season of darkness arrived early with Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel. Now we are celebrating the next holiday, Hanukkah.  

Hanukkah is a holiday that falls in a dark season, arriving on Thursday, evening of Dec. 7 (the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar every year). 

Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz

As days get shorter and darkness increases, Hanukkah begins with its lights adding brightness to a dark world. Many religions have a winter solstice holiday. In these dark times, physically and spiritually, lighting the candles is an act of faith and hope. 

One of the miracles of Hanukkah was that there was only enough oil to light the Menorah in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem for a single day but the oil lasted for eight. Even greater was the courage to light that first cruse of oil, knowing there may not be enough. 

The Hanukkah menorah is a major symbol of the Jewish holiday. It contains nine branches, one for each of the eight nights of the holiday plus one extra branch, the shammash or helper candle, to light all of the other candles. It is taught to publicize the miracle of the holiday by placing the menorah outside of one’s door or in a window. 

Congregation Emeth invites everyone to join us for a public lighting outside of the temple on the eighth night, 6pm Dec. 14. 

Two ancient rabbis, Hillel and Shammai, debated about the way to light the candles. Shammai said the full menorah should be lit on the first night and then decrease one candle each night. Hillel countered that one must add a new light each night because we want to increase in holiness.

In this dark time for Jews around the world, where antisemitism has increased almost 400% in two months, Hanukkah is a time to spread light. Rabbi Hillel was correct. It is a joy to increase the light and the holiness each day of the holiday. Just as a young child anticipates adding more candles to a birthday cake, so do we get excited about adding more candles each night until the whole menorah is aglow.

In the darkest nights of the year, the light of a candle shines even brighter. Some of the darkness we face in the world today is an increase in antisemitism and Islamophobia. Our hearts are large enough to express empathy to more than one group of people. 

We can each spread light during this holiday season. We can spread the light of kindness and compassion. We can spread the light by standing up against the darkness of hatred. We can spread light by explaining our customs with others as we dispel the darkness.

Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz is the rabbi of Congregation Emeth. Located in Morgan Hill and serving all of South County, Congregation Emeth was founded 45 years ago and is the oldest Jewish community in South County. Rabbi Dantowitz can be contacted at [email protected].

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