December 19th, 2022 — Hanukkah 2022/5783
Hey IKAR! this is Rabbi Keilah Lebell Wishing you Hanukkah Sameah from Chattanooga, Tennessee.Since we moved from L.A. my kids started asking if we could put up Hanukkah decorations. We do put out dreidels, and we dust off our Hanukkiot. But this year, that wasn’t enough. They wanted to display Hanukkah outside, at the front of the house, the way our neighbors have been doing in preparation for Christmas. I told them that our family doesn’t have a tradition of decorating in that way. For Hanukkah, though, I know some Jewish families do. But we do have a different of displaying Hanukkah to our neighbors. During Hanukkah, we don’t simply light the candles. We’re supposed to actually place the hanukkiah in a place where people will surely be able to see it and at a time that they’ll definitely be able to see it. The rabbis instituted this very intentional display of the Hanukkah lights for the sake of what they called pirsumei nisa, which means publicizing the miracle. They taught that we don’t only celebrate the miracles of Hanukkah in the privacy of our homes and synagogues. We have to proclaim that miracle to the public, announcing to anyone who walks by Jewish or not Jewish, that these miracles took place throughout Jewish history. That act of pirsumei nisa of publicizing the miracle and placing our hanukkiah in the window has carried different violence because of where Jews lived and who their neighbors were. And there were certainly times, even for some Jews today, when it wasn’t safe to put your hanukkiah in the window. When we lived in L.A. and put our hanukkiot on the windowsill, I was confident that most people passing by, even the non-Jewish folks, would have more than an inkling of what the candles mean. Now that we live here in Chattanooga, where there are only a few thousand Jews and we are without a doubt the only Jews living in our subdivision, I’m not sure what our neighbors understand when they see the hanukkiah in our window. But what I do know, though, is that the neighbors that we have made connections with, the other parents I chat with at the bus stop, the folks walking by who let my kids pet their dog. The people we have gotten to know, they’re the ones who know who live here and know that we’re celebrating a Jewish holiday. And I’ve been discovering each of their unique stories and origins and religious affiliations. We know the Catholic lady from Chicago across the street with the two tiny dogs. We know the Muslim family down the street from Turkey. The husband drove my husband to the E.R. when he cut his finger one night washing the dishes. We know the Seventh-Day Adventist couple who just dote on our kids and love that we also celebrate the Sabbath. And through our short conversations, we’ve developed an unspoken commitment to care for each other as neighbors when they walk by and see the candles in our window. They know who let them and know that we’re celebrating our unique heritage and faith. So as we lay out Hanukkah candles tonight, think about who from the outside will see them. Let’s reflect about our relationship with our neighbors, with our neighborhood, with our city. Do you feel connected to the folks walking by? Do you feel afraid to put your Hanukah in the window? Do you feel safe sharing who you are? What would it take for you to feel more connected to them? As we celebrate and reflect on these questions together, I hope we feel inspired this year to connect not only with each other, but with those outside our doors as well. Hanukkah Sameah.