Against all predictable odds - a miracle did happen then.
And so it begins - the eight days of Chanukah and Festival of Lights. It's a long story..an ancient one. A sad one. A one that has been repeated over and over throughout history. The plots and story lines are always the same - the scenes...the times...the characters vary. One monarchy or another...or some other governing force attempts to obliterate the Jewish people - as a religion..as a people...as a race.
This particular holiday dates back to the 2nd Century BCE..when the Hellenists banned the practice of the Jewish religion..sacrificing pigs at the temple's alter...desecrating their holiest of holy places of worship. Under the leadership of Judah Maccabee and his soldiers - the Jews rose and fought back...and - against all odds - won their war. They liberated their temple. They cleansed and re-built it. And - when it came time to light the traditional candle..the one that was meant to burn for all days and all nights - there remained only a few scant drops of oil. Only enough - it is said - to burn for one day. And yet - it burned for eight. It was a true miracle..and it did happen. Then and there.
Fast forward through time and back in history.
We arrive in the middle ages. Prohibited from living freely...Jews were forced to live within the confines of specifically designated neighborhoods and ghettos. Mass random massacres were an expected and almost everyday ordinary occurrence. A fact of life. For no good reason..other than they practiced their religion.
Into the 1400's...and we find ourselves in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition. Jews were forced either to convert to Catholicism..or flee the country and their homes to save themselves and their lives.
In the late 1900's...we're in Eastern Europe. Organized by the Tsarist Russian government - the small shtetls were attacked...the homes and businesses of the Jews who lived there destoyed. Random lootings..burnings of the holy books and religious centers..exilings - ripped families apart and shattered innocent lives. There is no good explanation. There is no good story. It makes no good sense at all.
And then - of course - we land right here in recent history. The holocaust and the mass genocide of the Jews. The aim - of course - was to eliminate..to annihilate..to wipe us out. As a race...as a religion..as a tradition..as a 'people' who exist upon this earth. Innocent people - who had hearts..who lived..who loved...who breathed. The toll was six million. Gone.
But - here we are. Here I am. Against all imaginable odds.
No other holiday reminds me of the power of life..the drive to survive..the will to continue onwards and exist - more than this. We aren't celebrating a victory that should never have been won. We're not celebrating a war that should never have needed to be fought. What we are celebrating is light..is life..is the miracle of it all.
As I taste my first latke...as I light my first candle..as I join Jews the world over in celebratory song and prayer - I'm reminded of how truly lucky I am. To be here now - alive and freely practicing the traditions and religion of so many who suffered and died..and - against all conceivable odds - survived.
The letters carved on my spinning dreidl tell me the story of the miracle that happened there.
Nes Gadol Hayah Sham.
And - here I am. As I grow older and wiser and more appreciative and aware of all that I have - I'm awe struck by it all. That I am a product of that miracle. That I've carried this with and thru me...and passed it along to my children..who will pass it to theirs. We survive.
Against all immeasurable odds - we bravely...fiercely carry on.