What Hannukah Means to Me

Hannukah literally means ‘dedication.’  The holiday of Hannukah is to commemorate the hannukat ha’beit, the dedication of the Temple.  About 2,200 years ago, the Maccabees fought a long and bloody war against Greek culture and influence, and they ended the conflict by rededicating themselves to the worship of YHVH (God, Yahweh, etc.) at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Dedicating, or rededicating, a space for a sacred purpose is a very powerful way to bring light into a darkening world.  I would like to share three personal stories of times when I have done this, and I encourage you to think about times when you have also done this.

Flurrie T. Dog came into the Pollack family when I was nine years old.  She was the best dog in the world until she died peacefully a few months ago.  Near the end of my senior year in college, Flurrie came to visit my disgusting and dilapidated apartment for a week when my parents went on vacation.  Everyone came to see Flurrie that week, as she was far cooler and more popular than I could ever be.  Near the end of her visit, Flurrie ate some rat poison that I did not know was in the apartment.  She was near death when my parents rushed her to the vet a few days later.  This accident shook me to my core, and it was the first time I seriously realized that Flurrie wouldn’t live forever.  That summer between college and Rabbinical school, I lived at home and worked part time.  I made an effort to take Flurrie on more walks, something I was not very good at doing while at college, or even before that, and to spend more time with her by the creek.  Before I left for college, the creek was me and Flurrie’s favorite place to be.  I would sit by the creek while she would graze peacefully and then eventually come and nap by my side.  That summer, the creek was dedicated as the place where Flurrie and I could just hang out and enjoy life.  The creek was the place where darkness yielded to light.

About halfway through my first year at Rabbinical school, I began the process of becoming more politically active and aware.  What I learned about the corruption of our democracy and its inability to act sickened me.  The more I learned, the angrier and more depressed I became.  Near the end of last winter, a teacher of mine invited me to a protest against the keystone pipeline and the corrupt process causing our climate to change.  I agreed to go.  He then told me that he was planning to get arrested.  He didn’t ask me to do that, but I jumped at the opportunity and said that I would like to be arrested as well.  The protest happened at the federal building in downtown Philadelphia, across the street from Independence Hall.  We marched, sang, chanted, and eventually planted ourselves in the entrance to the federal building.  With a bit of police brutality, we were cleared from the doorway.  We then hopped a police barrier to storm the building, and peacefully turned ourselves over for arrest.  I often call this day the happiest of my life.  We rededicated the public space, the federal building across from the liberty bell, to the value of citizens participating in our democracy and claiming our right to determine our own fates.  Through this act of dedication, I brought hope and light into my world.  After being released from jail later that day, I went to my favorite Philadelphia restaurant for my favorite meal.  The man behind the counter looked up at me and told me that I was, “Glowing like a pregnant woman.”

Midway through my Junior year at the University of Maryland, I went to Jerusalem for three weeks to study at a Haredi yeshiva on the green line.  I went because the trip was free, and I had nothing better to do that winter break.  I was not extremely keen on learning, and after two and a half years of 200 person lectures that taught to a thoughtless test, I was ready to leave school.  At the yeshiva, students of all ages from all around the world came to learn simply for the sake of learning.  They had an enthusiasm and joy at the opportunity to learn and to encounter and commune with the divine through exploring and studying creation.  The love and dedication to learning in that yeshiva sparked me to rededicate myself to Torah l’shma, learning for the sake of learning, and illuminated my way through college and into Rabbinical school.

Inspiration is fleeting and a static organism will always yield to entropy and chaos.  It is important to set aside a time and a place to rededicate ourselves to our core values.  Hannukah, the festival of light, happens in the middle of the winter, when our world is quite literally at its darkest.  I ask you what you are dedicating yourself to at this moment, what new life will spring forth from you this year?