The Meaning of Chanukah: Coming Together in Light

Close up of extended Jewish family celebrating Hanukkah Chanukah at dining table. Focus is on mature man lighting candles in menorah.
Chanukah begins today, December 18
Getty Images

Rabbi Josh Franklin of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons shares his thoughts on the history and meaning of Chanukah, which takes place this year Sunday, December 18 through Monday, December 26.

The Meaning of Chanukah

Like most Jewish holidays, Chanukah fits into the simple pattern of “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”

The origin of the holiday dates back to a group of Jewish rebels called the Maccabees who carried out a mutiny against the Seleucid Greek power that was occupying the land of Israel in 167 BCE. The odds of the Maccabees defeating the powerful Greek army was akin to Tunisia winning the World Cup.

Yet the Maccabees prevailed, and upon their victory, they entered the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been ransacked. They sought to rededicate the Temple by rekindling its giant golden menorah.

They only had enough oil, however, to last a single day. Miraculously, as the story goes, the oil lasted eight days, paving the way for our current eight-day holiday.

There are a number of ways to explain Chanukah today. It marks a miraculous military victory; it’s a reminder of the miracle of the oil; and it’s become a holiday of lights in a time that generally coincides with the winter solstice.

The early Roman historian Josephus proclaims Chanukah as the “Festival of Lights,” because “the freedom to worship had been concealed in darkness and was then brought out as a light.”

There is one more thing that I find special about Chanukah every year. Chanukah unites various peoples together throughout the world and celebrates our ability to create light not just through lighting candles, and not just through our freedom to worship, but through forging sacred relationships.

The Maccabees never could have imagined that a few thousand years in the future, a rabbi and a Greek Orthodox priest (Father Constantine Lazarakis) would become friends, co-authors, and show their communities just how much Jews and Greeks can learn from one another.

No longer do we need a paradigm of light versus dark in relation to Chanukah. Today, we should simply focus on bringing as much light as possible into the world.

The Jewish Center of the Hamptons offers public menorah lightings around the Hamptons. Visit to learn more.

Rabbi Josh Franklin
Rabbi Josh Franklin

More from Our Sister Sites