Light candles for all those in need of hope this Chanukkah – Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah. SJN, 12.17.

This year, we will begin the kindling of the Chanukkah lights on the evening of 12 December. We know that this post-biblical festival, considered ‘minor’ in the Jewish festival calendar, has become major in response to the global pre-eminence of Christmas. This is rather ironic considering that the story of Chanukkah begins with Mattathias the priest and his sons, rejecting assimilation, and taking up arms against the tyrannical Assyrian-Greek regime of Antiochus IV.

It is impossible to avoid the domination of the so-called ‘secular ‘calendar that takes as its starting point the birth of a Jewish boy, hailed after his death as a divine ‘Christ’ – the Greek word for messiah – and made the founder of the new religion of Christianity. Nevertheless, despite centuries of persecution, Jewish communal life continues to thrive in the Diaspora. And so, as we approach the end of 2017, it is fitting to look back on the year and reflect on all that has taken place.

2017 has been a year of Jewish milestones: the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, that began on 5 June 1967, the centenary of the Declaration contained in Lord Balfour’s letter to Lord Rothschild of 2 November 1917, and the 70th anniversary of the UN vote on 29 November 1947 to partition the land disputed between Jews and Arabs into two states. As the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel approaches and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians continues, we have much to think about.

Of course, as Jews living in every country across the globe, including, here in Britain, we are engaged in the wider world, and many are actively involved in social justice action. So, this Chanukkah, as we light the Chanukkiyyah each evening and express our gratitude for the victory of the Maccabees against tyranny in 164 BCE, after a year that has seen devastating events, let us also express hope for all those experiencing loss, suffering and persecution. You may wish to dedicate each night’s candle-lighting as a declaration of hope in this way: 1. Those fleeing terrorism and war, especially in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and Burundi. 2. The Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, whose villages have been burnt down in deliberate acts of ethnic cleansing. 3. Those maimed and bereaved in terrorist attacks, in particular in London, Manchester, Paris, Brussels and Barcelona. 4. Those bereaved and made homeless by the monsoon floods in Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. 5. Those bereaved and made homeless by the hurricanes that swept through the Caribbean and southern United States. 6. Those bereaved and made homeless by ferocious earthquakes, especially in central Italy and Mexico. 7. Those bereaved and injured by mass shootings in the US, in particular, in Las Vegas, the worst so far. 8. All those persecuted, oppressed and denied their human rights throughout the world, not least those who endure the chains of slavery. Chanukkah Samei’ach!