Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Daniella Elyashar. Daniella studies Education, History of Israel and Contemporary Judaism at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She has spent four summers at camp as a member of the Mishlachat and was Rosh Machon 2017.

Jelly Donuts and Religious Freedom – the Essence of Daniella’s Hanukkah
by Daniella Elyashar

This week we began our Hanukkah celebrations, a holiday that mostly conjures up thoughts of latkes, playing with a sevivon(dreidel) and lighting the hanukkiah, also referred to as a menorah.

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As an Israeli there can be no Hanukkah celebration without an extravagant Roladin sufgania (donut). For those of you who are not familiar with this phenomenon, every year Roladin, a well-known bakery in Israel, comes out with a new sufgania collection. From pistachio to chocolate, pecans to caramel and almonds to crème fraiche, the combinations are always exquisite. Trying to avoid these marvelous creations, I started to think about the difference between these gorgeous delights and the original (boring) sufgania that kindergarteners get every December.

For me, this clear exaggeration falls in line with many aspects of Hanukkah. The eight-day Jewish celebration commemorates the Jews’ uprising against their Greek-Syrian oppressors during the Maccabean Revolt. Somehow the small group of Jews won the battle and demolished their enemies. Another famous story is about one small pach shemen (container of oil). As the story goes, a small quantity of oil used to light the Temple’s menorah miraculously lasted eight days instead of one.

While looking at various sources, we may see that these stories aren’t entirely correct. They are based on some historical facts, but is it possible that they have been altered by some wise Jewish thinkers? What were they trying to teach us? Why did the stories and celebrations become so exaggerated in comparison to the historical facts?

It’s important to note one aspect of Hanukkah I think is easily forgotten. The reason the war started in the first place and the historical background leading to the big battle are very important. The Maccabees were trying to protect their right to choose their own religion. They refused to compromise their faith, and fought to save the continuation of the Jewish people. Although this seems like a legitimate reason to celebrate Hanukkah, it isn’t our go-to thought when we sing the rousing maoz tzur hymn traditionally recited after we light candles each night.

The heroic act of Hanukkah in my opinion is fighting for this cause. Although some facts may be different from numerous sources, the actual reason for the celebration of Hanukkah is that we as Jews can in fact exaggerate. The Maccabees won that war for us to be able to look back at those sources, challenge their accuracy, build strong and lasting traditions around those stories and celebrate our vibrant existence. The exaggeration therefore is one of the ways to insure we remember our religion that was threatened. I think it’s important for us to question those exaggerations, and find ways to celebrate our Jewish heritage by positively impacting the world rather than just relying on our past.

Camp to me celebrates the essence of Hanukkah: eight weeks of opportunities to celebrate our heritage in diverse ways. Lighting the hanukkiah last night helped me remember how thankful I am for that.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom.