The flames of the Hannukah menorahs flickering in Jewish homes worldwide will have an added layer of meaning this year. They will also embody the message of resilience and faith from a community reeling from the terrorist attack perpetrated by Hamas on Oct. 7 and feeling the effects of the ongoing war in Israel.
Even in the darkest hours, hope persists. Our Hannukah menorahs are a beacon of unwavering optimism and faith.
This symbolism is even more poignant as Israel faces another kind of war, and Jewish communities nationwide experience an unsettling rise in anti-Semitism. The war is more than a military confrontation in a distant region of the world; it’s a battle between light and darkness.
Following the massacres on Oct. 7, the Jewish community worldwide has bucked all recent trends of hiding their Jewishness when faced with hate. Instead, Jews are banding together in a strong stand of solidarity as they navigate a growing tide of anti-Semitism. In fact, many of my colleagues across the U.S. have reported that they are seeing a heightened sense of Jewish pride, connection to Israel and stronger Jewish identity among their community members.
Since the Oct. 7 attack, I have fielded more calls from Jews wishing to reconnect with Jewish practice than I have in my 30 years as a rabbi in the Sacramento region. Jews are done with hiding in the shadows, done with feeling afraid to display overt signs or symbols of our Jewishness. Instead, we are turning to faith, community and G-d as we navigate this moment.
This Hannukah, as we celebrate 175 years of Jewish life in Sacramento, we plan to light 175 menorahs, each representing a hostage still held in Gaza. Each flame will fill the void of darkness left by hostages still unable to light their menorahs. They will remind us of the state of Israel’s emblem: a menorah flanked by olive branches, symbolizing the nation’s founding upon the principles of peace and the indomitable Jewish spirit.
Public menorah lightings, like the one Chabad is holding with the Sacramento Kings on December 14, are not just events but acts of Jewish resilience. They are proud statements of unity and strength from a community that will not lie down. By choosing to light menorahs in public places and proudly attending such events, we spread the story of Hannukah and emulate its universal message of freedom of the human spirit, of freedom from tyranny and oppression and of the ultimate victory of good over evil.
Let our Hannukah celebrations this year be a reminder that its lessons are relevant today. They are alive, guiding us through current struggles, and reminding us that our light can overcome any darkness. The menorahs we light are more than symbols; when we light the menorah this year, in addition to honoring the miracles of the past, we will also reaffirm our commitment to spreading light in the present.
Rabbi Mendy Cohen is the director of Chabad of Sacramento.