Our Hanuka Story

Hanuka has many meanings for many people.  For some, it’s all about the latkes; for others, it’s all about candles and songs from childhood.  We don’t usually tell children the details about this tense chapter in Jewish history, when the pro-Hellenists and the anti-Hellenists engaged in a civil war that threatened Jewish survival. We live in a world in which “compromise” and “conversation” have become anathema to many.  Damn everyone who disagrees with me is heard in Congress and parliaments all over the world.  Is there a place for pluralism in the 21st century?  I hope so!

I am so proud to serve the Williams Jewish Community, where there is a history of pluralism and listening to the needs and desires of all of our friends.  We’re an extraordinary community in that we don’t divide ourselves into movements, like Conservative or Reform, or suggest that you’re “in” or “out” of the Jewish community according to whether you’re “religious” or not.  While we make kosher food available, there’s no judgment made about who eats what; these are matters of individual choice and custom.  We’re glad that we have diverse life styles—some may regularly recite traditional prayers, others may follow an entirely secular set of beliefs.   Some create a particularistic Jewish lifestyle; others find that their Jewish identity enables them to take part fully in the larger society of which we are a part.  And certainly we have dozens (if not more!) viewpoints on the State of Israel and its place in Jewish life.

In addition to Latkes and candles, this holiday is a good time to reflect on our diversity.  There were two famous rabbis in the Talmud who almost always seemed to disagree with each other:  Hillel and Shamai.  If Hillel said, “stand up”, Shamai would say “sit down.”  If Shamai would say, “This is the most important principle of Judaism” Hillel would say “No, that is more important.”  In the Talmud, often when great rabbis disagreed, a more important principle was applied to what they argued about:  Eylu v’eylu divrei Elohim ChayimThis way and that way are the ways of God; and both opinions became part of Jewish law. This is how we, a very diverse group of people, can fit together comfortably in the Purple Valley, recognizing that by our diverse heritage and life choices, we can mold into one community while at Williams.

When you head for home, may your Hanuka candles burn brightly, may your latkes be crispy, and may your rest during this winter break be sweet and satisfying.  I wish you good success in your finals, and safe travels home.


Cantor Bob