Hanukkah, the eight-day festival which begins Saturday evening, is all about oil.
In response to Greek persecution, the Maccabees led a Jewish insurrection in the Holy Land some 2,200 years ago. After vanquishing the mighty Greek armies, the Maccabees entered the Temple in Jerusalem. But they could not find enough oil to light the Menorah, the seven-branched golden candelabra in the Temple. They found just one small jug with enough oil to burn for one night. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight nights.
We celebrate the miracle of the oil by eating fried foods (sorry, Weight Watchers) such as doughnuts and latkes (fried potato pancakes), and light candles on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah.
Now oil is a strange substance; it has two opposite properties. When oil is mixed with other fluids it always floats to the top. No matter how hard you try, it just won't mix with other liquids. Yet, at the same time oil stains, it goes into everything and it’s hard to get out. It's this sort of saturation that makes oil-based stains so tough to remove. So it both floats and saturates. Go figure!
In our own lives, oil serves as model for our own identity and values in their relationship with the cultures and values around us. Like oil, we must saturate those around us, sharing our positive values and flooding our society with goodness. But like oil, we must float above and not allow ourselves to be influenced by the immoral values that can be found around us.
Today we live in the most free and most tolerant country in the history of mankind; today we have more communication platforms than ever imaginable. Today more than ever we face the challenge of oil; to saturate and influence others but not lose our identity and our values.
We often feel a strong pressure, whether real or imagined, to conform to the norms around us. Few among us enjoy being different. However, the fact is that others respect us more when we respect ourselves and others admire us when we are proud of who we are. We must then use that pride and sense of identity to communicate our values to those around us.
That is why the Jewish Community Center puts up public Hanukkah displays across the community and makes public Hanukkah celebrations at landmarks throughout the South Bay celebrating and honoring the freedom and values that the Hanukkah festival teaches us.
Please join us once again this year to publicly express our proud identity along with gratitude for the freedoms of our great country that allows us to freely celebrate our identity.
This year the JCC has erected giant Menorahs in the following locations: Redondo Beach Civic Center, Manhattan Village shopping mall, El Segundo Civic Center, South Bay Galleria, Greenwood Park in Hermosa Beach and Plaza El Segundo. Each of these places will have a Menorah lighting ceremony with local dignitaries on a different night of Chanukah. Join us with your family in your own neighborhood for music, hot latkes and gifts for all the children.
Wishing you a happy Hanukkah,
Rabbi Yossi Mintz
The Jewish Community Center