This issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin is being published as Jews throughout the world prepare to celebrate the festival of Chanukah. Many of us have already cleaned and prepared our Chanukah menorahs and the smell of potato latkes fried in oil can be sensed in our kitchens.
Chanukah celebrates the military victory of the Maccabees in their war against the Greeks. Yet, we make a bigger deal about the miracle of the small jug of pure oil that was found and the lights that burned for eight days. The way we celebrate the holiday is by lighting candles and eating foods fried in oil. The military victory seems to be shoved under the rug.
One of the reasons given is that the military victory was short lived. There were many other enemies who rose up against us after the Greeks. The miracle of the oil and the symbol of the menorah, however, have an everlasting spiritual significance and timeless relevance. The little jug of oil symbolizes the faith that exists in the deep recesses of our souls – a faith that is miraculous if we allow ourselves to find it and light it. It is a faith that has ensured our survival to this very day. When we light our menorah at the door or by the window, we publicize that, as much as our enemies try to destroy us and take everything we have, they can never destroy our soul and our faith. Our soul is an indestructible spark of Godliness. As King Solomon said, “The candle of God is the soul of man.”
This message will be so vivid for me this year as I will be lighting a menorah that belonged to a Jewish family during the Second World War. This menorah from Holland was recently presented to our shul in Barrhaven, the Ottawa Torah Centre Chabad.
A few weeks ago, I received a telephone call for Susan Bloomfield, a woman who lives a few doors down from the shul. She said she had an old menorah she would like to give to us as a gift and she told me the story of the Chanukah menorah.
Her great uncle, Gerard Richel, was a Christian man living in The Hague in the Netherlands during the Second World War. When the Germans invaded Holland in 1940, he hid a Jewish family in the attic of his home: a couple and their teenage son. The door leading to the attic was hidden behind a dresser in the bedroom of Gerard’s six-year-old son who was very sick. Whenever the Germans would search the house, they would not go into the boy’s room, so as not to disturb the sick child.
When the war was over and the Jewish family was able to leave the attic to start building their lives again, they wanted to express their gratitude to Gerard and his family for having saved their lives. The only valuable possession they had was a menorah, which meant so much to them. They gave Gerard the menorah to show their appreciation for what he had done for them and they told him, “The Germans can take away everything we owned, but our faith is something they could never take away from us, and that is the symbol of our menorah.”
Susan inherited the menorah and kept it for years as part of her family history. When she heard a new synagogue was being built in Barrhaven, she decided it would be the new home for her menorah. It was time for this menorah, which had not been used for more than 75 years, to be lit once again.
When we kindle our Chanukah lights next week, let us remember, as this Jewish family did during the harshest of times, that the flames of our faith are inextinguishable and no one can take that away from us.
Wishing you and yours a bright and a Happy Chanukah!