A college ring, a concert tee, a Magen David necklace. It is human nature to wish to be known and recognized for who we are, to wear the trappings of our inner identities on the outside for all to see and understand. Tokens of membership are important to us, and they speak before we even say a word. It starts as teens with a backpack covered in pins and buttons and never really goes away. We need to tell the world: “Here I am, this is where I’m coming from.”
As the holiday of Chanukah approaches, we reflect on the most public Jewish ritual, the lighting of the menorah. From town squares to residential window sills, the menorah sends a message of Jewish identity and resilience to everyone who sees its glow.
In the Hellenic society of the Maccabees’ time, conformity of religion forced Jewish families to practice Jewish customs in secret. As a celebration of the freedom to practice Judaism openly, we now display the menorah prominently in a window. This practice also stems from the concept of Hiddur Mitzvah, going beyond the letter of the law to glorify God and enhance the joy of the ritual. The menorah faces the street to spread the word of the Chanukah miracle to all who see it.
To those looking in, the menorah speaks of thousands of years of history. Of resilience and struggle, joyful celebrations and growth. The menorah’s glow increases each night of Chanukah, proclaiming that the Jewish People carries proudly on, always expanding spiritually and philosophically. Before we even say a word, even before the blessing is uttered over the newly-lit candles, the menorah speaks of the light we hope to spread in the outer world.
To those inside, lighting the menorah and taking pleasure in its glow, the menorah is a personal symbol. It can be a symbol of taste (traditional brass or a tree of life in glass?) or of emotional connection (bold and colorful or handworked and earthy?). It might connect us to our grandparents who came before or symbolize new traditions that we create or reshape to fit our own unique identities. Just as those outside look at our menorahs and see our pride in the Jewish community, we look at our own menorahs and see ourselves reflected in the flickering lights.
This Chanukah season, we look forward to introducing you to some diverse ways that we wear our Jewish identities today and some insight into how our own identities can inform our approach to Jewish life. We hope that you will follow along with us on our blog as we begin our Intersecting Identities series and explore how different segments of our identities interact with our Judaism. Read the first article here.