This past weekend, I had one of those “bound to happen” conversations with my kids. Let me lay the groundwork. From Thanksgiving until after the new year, we have 93.9 Lite FM playing in the car. For those not accustomed to Chicago radio, Lite FM transitions from its normal playlists to 24-hour holiday music beginning just before Thanksgiving. We have a thing for holiday music, the lights, and everything else holiday season. So there I am driving in the car when the kids cry out, “We want some Chanukah music.” I transition us from Lite FM to the first Chanukah playlist I can find on Spotify, and we begin jamming. This playlist was primarily pop music with Matisyahu, Don McLean, Walk Off the Earth, and the Indigo Girls, just to name a few. Then, Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song” begins to play. The questions start flying from the back seat. How many people celebrate Chanukah? Why are there so many Jews in “show biz?” Did he just swear?
The conversation about how many people celebrate Chanukah made me realize how special it is to be Jewish. The 2005 short film, The Tribe, starts by breaking down the world’s population into categories by which continent they are from and then the religion they practice. They simplify the math by spreading the population over 100 people. How many are considered Jewish? One quarter of one individual! That number is ridiculously small. When we talk about our congregational budget, the past few years we have come within 1% (positive or negative) of balancing the budget. The number of Jews in the world is smaller than that margin! However, as Adam Sandler sings, “so many Jews are in show biz…” As a people, Jews—however small our numbers might be—make a HUGE impact on the world around us. We overcome tremendous odds time and time again, just like Judah and his Maccabees.
Rather than diving into this week’s parsha Mikeitz, I wanted to share and close with a portion from President Biden’s Statement on Chanukah released on Sunday, November 28. Like many, I strongly believe when someone says it well, just say ditto.
Over these eight nights, Jews in the United States, Israel, and around the globe will proudly celebrate Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. They will light the menorah, spin the dreidel, eat latkes, and tell of how the Maccabees, guided by an abiding belief in their Creator and an inextinguishable commitment to their faith, prevailed against all odds.
At its core, Hanukkah recounts a story at the heart of the human spirit – one that is inherently Jewish and undeniably American. It commemorates how even the most fragile flame can sustain a tradition and nourish the soul of a people. It teaches us that even a little bit of light, wherever it is found, can dispel the darkness and illuminate a path forward. And it reminds us that whether it is the Holy Temple in Jerusalem or the temple of our democracy, nothing broken or profaned is beyond repair.
Much like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah is a holiday dedicated to the expression of gratitude for the blessings and miracles in our lives – big and small, seen and unseen, from ancient times until the present day.