Q: As the world prepares for Christmas, should Chanukah be marked more in public life?
Rabbi Helen Freeman says…
The world seems very dark now, with fundamentalism having such a negative impact on religion around the world. So, the message of Chanukah could not be more important.
Our Haftarah Zechariah chapter 4 says: ‘Not by might, not by power, but by My spirit says the God of hosts’.
It reminds us that the good things we enjoy are a gift from God to be shared, a message that can counter the consumerism of this time of year and perhaps remind us to help Crisis at Christmas or the drop-in centre that we and other synagogues run.
We don’t need to mark Chanukah more in public life; we have public chanukiyot and Chanukah in the Square supported by the Mayor of London. We have a communal chance to celebrate.
What we need instead is a place where we can gently remind each other of the message of Chanukah and of God’s place in our lives.
There is a discussion in the Talmud on why we light more candles each night of Chanukah.
The reason is that ‘we go up in matters of sanctity and not down’.
Our outward symbols of Chanukah remind us that it is about more than presents; it can counter the sense that nothing matters more than the latest gifts.
• Helen Freeman is a rabbi at West London Synagogue
Jonathan Oppenheimer says..
The short answer is ‘yes’. But this is happening, for example, with Akiva School’s choir singing at Chanukah in the Square, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner’s visit to Downing Street and the Civil Service Chanukah reception.
Jews are a small minority in the UK, but we punch above our numbers and our richly diverse community is firmly a part of the wider society.
Jews contribute enormously to British life from medicine to the arts and from education to industry and we’ve been here for a long time.
However, many of our fellow Britons know surprisingly little about Judaism, so marking our festivals publicly and explaining them to our neighbours combats ignorance and encourages positive interaction and dialogue between Jews and non-Jews.
Chanukah lends itself to public expression, with its message of light and hope. I’m always reminded of the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn’s account of celebrating Chanukah in the concentration camp of Lieberose.
His father had made a small clay lamp and used their precious margarine ration as fuel.
When Hugo protested against the waste of food, his father answered that they had lived for whole weeks without food and for days without water, but that one could not live a single day without hope.
• Jonathan Oppenheimer is vice chairman of the Movement for Reform Judaism and a member of Wimbledon and District Synagogue