Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
A survey found that 74% of Israelis light candles all eight nights of Chanukah. This is an amazing fact when you consider that Chanukah is really a holiday of protest, of insisting on keeping our identity despite being persecuted for doing so. But what is there to protest today, when everything is permitted? The Greeks issued three decrees against us, forbidding brit milah, Shabbat observance, and sanctification of the new moon. Keeping these mitzvot was a crime. But today no one is stopping us from keeping these, or any other mitzvot. Yet, since there is no Antiochus persecuting us for living as Jews, how do we preserve the fire and fighting spirit of the Maccabees? When we hear: “Bro, do whatever you feel like, it doesn’t matter,” we are being encouraged to cease from our ancient ways, and to forget the physical battles and spiritual struggles of our history.
The stories about our forefathers who hid, who were persecuted and tortured, not only in the Chanukah story but in every generation, are moving and important, but what about us? It is easy to preserve our identity when we are in an obvious war of good guys versus bad guys. In an open, liberal world, however, everything is more confusing and complex, and maintaining our Jewish identity is a continuous challenge.
Today, when we hear of zealotry or self-sacrifice, we think mostly about dying for a cause. But how do we live for a cause, how do we sanctify life? How can Judaism light a positive fire, a warming fire that emits light of goodness? Every year, during Chanukah, we learn about the large majority of us who are still interested in continuing the story of this holiday, from one generation to the next. We insist on preserving the values of our forefathers, the Hasmoneans, even in a world in which there is no Antiochus. No longer hiding or fearful of evil decrees, we are still confronted daily with a destructive popular culture that dares us to adhere to our traditions. And so, in our own days, lighting the menorah is a kind of heroism, too.