“I’d Like to Dedicate This…”

candlesChanukah means “dedication.” The holiday has that name because it recalls the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt. Today we don’t have a temple in Jerusalem. Ever since year 70 of the common era the primary locus for Jewish life is in our homes, which we refer to as a mikdash me’at, a little sanctuary.

From Thanksgiving until January 1 in the United States, this sense of home as sanctuary is heightened for many Jews. Out in the world, we are surrounded by “the holiday season.” That phrase can mean a number of things, including:

  • For observant Christians, it is a remembrance of the birth of Jesus, preceded for some by the penitential season of Advent. Obviously, that’s not a Jewish celebration. We can enjoy Handel’s Messiah or the neighbor’s lighted creche, but for us, Jesus was at most a gifted teacher, not the messiah.
  • For most Americans, it is a once-yearly season of parties, gift-giving and family gatherings. When students tell me, “I don’t see Christmas as a religious holiday,” I know they see Christmas as a once-a-year season of warm feelings and nostalgia.
  • For some Americans, it is a season of excess: shopping, eating, and drinking too much, borrowing too much, envying too much, building towards a massive hangover in January. All of those things are a problem in terms of Jewish values.
  • For some Jews, it can be the season of feeling crowded by other people’s holidays. Or it can be a season of feeling left out.

“Aw, rabbi!” I can hear some readers saying, “Are you going to be a party pooper?” That is not my intent. What I’d like to do is to encourage you to think clearly about what you are doing this “holiday season.” How and what you celebrate is ultimately up to you.

This is the first of several articles I’m going to post about the season and for now I shall leave you with a question:

When you light your menorah for Chanukah, what are you dedicating, and to what are you dedicating it?

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

6 thoughts on ““I’d Like to Dedicate This…””

  1. Rabbi Ruth, thank you so much for this ….you are most definitely not a party pooper. This year, my menorah will remain candle less. It’s a beautiful pottery cat, bought for me by my husband, who beamed up to heaven(no offence meant…I just really don’t like “passed away”, nor did he, and it sits better with me)
    I’ll be using what I use on Shabbat….battery tea lights(need to get some more….) and I’ll be thinking of him, and dedicating my thoughts nd prayers and blessings to the man who was my husband for 34 years….my soulmate, my bashert…..part if me still doesnt quite believe he has gone.
    The reason for the non-real candles is that I still have fear of flames and fire….three years since my Mum was burned to death in a house fire. November was her 3rd yahrzeit.
    I have never liked this time of year….no happy family memories from childhood: just stress and upset …so, I’ll be trying to keep the whole “Christmas/New Year” thing as far out of my view as possible. Being agoraphobic, you think that would be fairly easy….but every time I turn the tv on The holiday stuff appears. Adverts, programmes, wherever. And in Scotland, New Year is a HUGE holiday. So I’ll light my wee tea lights, and think about Alastair, and cuddle the cats, and just try to keep going, which some days is easier than others. The other side of being fortunate enough of having a soulmate is the pain of grief and loss….I have never experienced anything like it. He was so much more than husband….and I miss him so much….

  2. Please accept my condolences and my understanding. I too lost my husband last year and the whole holiday season can be oppressive. It is difficult to observe the reveling of others while we mourn. But as far as dedication is concerned I feel that what I can do best is honor my faith and my husband, Reg, by loving our son and grandson and through tzedaka and acts of tikun olam. I try to remember to cherish the positive parts of my life and the love that we shared. I am so sorry for your pain.

  3. As this is my first true Hanukkah, I will be lighting my family’s first menorah (purchased by my husband) and I will be dedicating my observance to three things: the miracle of my marriage, the memory of my father (whose sixth yahrzeit is in January), and the blessing of finding my true religious identity as a Reform Jew. I will be giving tzedaka to at least one Jewish community organization near my home, and tikkun olam has always been a central focus of my life, so I will continue that as well.

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