Your hanukkiah in the window can be an obstinate act of love in dark times.
by Laura Costea | December 05 2023
As the year turns darker, and so does our world, we may well wonder, Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? And when will we get there? On some days, it feels like the walls of antisemitism are closing in around us.
If that’s so, then we need Hanukkah now more than ever. Those little lights in the window can be beacons, sure signs of the hope that we still have. In fact, as the world grows dim in our eyes, putting a hanukkiah in the window may be the most obstinate act of love we can offer.
Yet sometimes love and hope don’t come easily. I read a story about a courageous mother who held her nine-year-old son’s hand in a bomb shelter during the October 7 terrorist attack in Israel. She kept him close and kept praying for light as they listened to the shots outside. So this year, it may take a bold kind of faith for men, women, and children worldwide to place our menorahs in the window.
Even a year ago, NPR reported that Jewish people feared celebrating Hanukkah openly due to growing antisemitism. Jewish woman Beth Richman was quoted as saying, “Having a menorah does feel riskier, absolutely.… It’s a frightening time.” Yet though Ms. Richman wasn’t shy about her fears surrounding a public celebration of Hanukkah, neither was she shy about the fact that she would light the menorah, no matter what.
This won’t be the first time in history we’ve persevered through fear. We take courage because the Jewish people have a long history through which God has always offered us light in the darkness.
Here are four reasons to light the menorah with a heart full of hope this Hanukkah.
It’s hard to imagine a place where hope was less likely than in Nazi-run concentration camps. Yet even during the deep darkness of the Holocaust, there were inspiring stories of Jewish people who found ways to commemorate God’s faithfulness. One such story goes like this:
Holocaust survivor Yechezkel Hershtik, then a boy of about 12, remembers stopping on a bridge as they were transported on foot between the Romanian camps of Sacel and Iliora. They lit candles along the wall of the bridge, said the Hanukkah prayers, and then continued on their way.
I wonder if lighting candles on the bridge was a defiant act of hope, perhaps their way of saying to God, “We are still here—You have not forgotten us. We won’t forget You.” Perhaps they remembered that our identity as a people, as a nation before the Lord, can never be wiped out. This band of survivors may have clung to these words from our prophet Isaiah:
Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. (Isaiah 49:15)
Maybe a new miracle will take place this year—a God-given miracle of hope in a time of deeper darkness than many Jewish people have seen yet in our lifetimes. After all, the Jewish people in the time of the Maccabees also faced a time of deep darkness. They endured forced assimilation and witnessed the defiling of the Temple. Ancient tradition tells us it was in that setting that God brought about the miracle of the oil: what was meant to last only one day lasted for eight.
Within the charge of each of our holidays is the instruction to pass down to our children the stories of the Lord’s faithfulness. And within the Hanukkah story is a story of children who studied God’s words and learned to resist.
The story, though probably apocryphal, goes that when groups of children gathered to play under Antiochus’ occupation, they were really studying Torah, which was forbidden. When the soldiers walked by, the children would take out their small toys to pretend that they’d been playing. Theirs was a quiet resistance. Even if this story is not true to the history of Hanukkah, it shows that our people have valued standing for God in troubled times, and that even children can do their part in publicly remembering the promises of God.
God’s words, like those words from Isaiah, have been our strength before. The Hanukkah hymn “Maoz Tzur” (“Rock of Ages”) is a song of remembrance and praise to God for showing up in our story. It contains this powerful phrase: “And thy word broke their sword, when our own strength failed us.” This winter may be a time not only to celebrate Hanukkah, but a time to celebrate the promises of the One who brought us to Hanukkah and beyond. May we walk in the footsteps of the brave ones who’ve gone before us, and may we remember three things: we’ve hurt before, we’ve resisted before, and God has been there before.
It’s interesting to note that for Jewish people living in Israel, the Hanukkah phrase is worded differently: “A great miracle happened here” [as opposed to there]. We hope and pray for such a miracle in Israel at this time.
Our Jews for Jesus staff serving in Israel are no less affected by the current crisis than any other Israelis. Yet rather than giving in to fear, they have committed to giving back during this critical time with God’s love. When you love God and you love people, you pivot to where the need is greatest. So, our Tel Aviv team has converted their ministry center into a crisis response facility, where they’ve been providing meals for the homeless and care packages for thousands of families displaced by rocket fire. Our Israel team is available to minister to innocent civilians on both sides of the conflict, including children who’ve been exposed to horrible trauma. In this season of dire need for Israel, they’re committed to mourning with those who mourn and offering hope in the presence of darkness.
In the same way, we can each do our part to drive out fear by using the gifts God’s given us and loving the ones in front of us.
Many Jewish people have loved ones who are currently fighting very physical enemies on the front lines. And we know that the story of the Maccabees is an action-packed adventure story. Yet many Jewish people around the world today may be resisting an invisible—though no less real—enemy inside our homes: fear.
God knows what we will face in this world. Perhaps that’s why one of the most common commands in the Bible is, “Fear not.” We can choose to love God more than we fear evil. As we see a rise in worldwide expressions of antisemitism, it’s no wonder that some of us may fear the implications of putting a menorah in the window. This year, a young mother living in the diaspora may need to draw strength from the love and loyalty she has for her family and for her people if she is to put Hanukkah lights on display. Love amplifies the light so that Hanukkah is about more than candles and oil; it’s an act of tenacious hope in God and hope for our people.
This message of the Tanakh continued to be affirmed by the Jewish writers of the New Testament. One such follower, John, said, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
If you’ve lit the hanukkiah before, you know it’s a special moment. As the night grows darker, everyone comes together to watch and listen. The light of the menorah draws everyone in the house together. Perhaps that togetherness, that gathering at the window to watch the light, is a symbol of what it means to be Jewish and to love God more than we fear those who would destroy us.
My friend and I sat in a Reform synagogue. After a woman from the congregation read the Torah portion for the day, the rabbi gave a drash, sat down, and asked if anyone had any questions. One elderly man in the back raised his hand. “Can we opt out of being chosen?” he asked. The rabbi shrugged and said, “No,” which was the answer the man must have been expecting, because his retort was quick: “Well, we didn’t choose to be chosen!”
In fact, we have as much control over whether we were born Jewish or Gentile as we have over the place and time in which we were born. We may feel down deep in our bones what the Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (1:5, emphasis added).
You were born into the Jewish people for a reason. You’re part of a bigger story: the nation of Israel, which includes the story of Hanukkah and all our other stories. He chose you, and that’s true whether you feel it or not, whether you observe or not. Yes, God sees and cares for the Jewish people as a whole. He also sees and cares for your individual heart, your individual story.
By faith we can say, “He hasn’t given up on us. We won’t give up either.”
When I look at the news today, it quickly becomes too much. I close the computer, close my eyes, and another scene—another sufferer—flashes through my mind. I remember that my Jewish Messiah bled too. His sacrifice gives me courage to hope, no matter how dark the world gets.
Many people have noted Hanukkah’s perfect timing: the holiday comes just when the year starts turning darker because there’s less sunlight. Jesus came at one of the darkest times in our history too—during the Roman occupation—and declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). That’s a pretty weird thing to say about yourself. Who ever thought that light could be a person? But bringing light to the world was the Messiah’s job description.
He pointed our hearts back to the Lord, and he showed us how to trust God to the end, even despite the worst violence and hate that the world can throw at us. In fact, he was willing to risk almost being stoned to death for the teaching he gave about God and himself one Hanukkah night (John 10:32).
Jesus brought his light down into the darkness with us when he entered into our story. So, we wait in hope that the Messiah will return and bring peace once and for all.
The sun has its own light—the moon is but a reflection. It’s a lovely reflection, but still just a reflection. In the same way, we cannot create or manufacture our own light. But we can reflect God’s light.
As we fight for the courage to light candles in the darkness, may we remember that it’s God’s light that changes us.
Though we simply call it Hanukkah, another name for our winter holiday is the Festival of Dedication. Because as dazzling as was the miracle of the oil, and as heroic as were the Maccabees, the deepest joy came in being able to dedicate the Temple, being able to worship God again. This year, may we rededicate ourselves in the same way.
And when it’s hard to find joy, when it’s hard to feel worshipful, we can ask Him to help us remember. Maybe that’s what our holidays are all about. The traditional “Shehecheyanu” blessing recited at Hanukkah says, “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.” We depend on Him for everything.
When you put a menorah in the window, it gives light not only to all who are in the house, but to all who pass by too. It’s a beacon to the world, one that says that we trust in the God of Israel. When that trust is hard fought for, it is often when it’s proved to be most true.
And just as the moon shines more clearly and more brightly in a dark sky—perhaps His light shines in us the brightest when we’re at our darkest.
1. Deena Prichep, “Many American Jews are conflicted about publicly celebrating Hanukkah amidst growing anti-Semitism,” NPR, December 18, 2022.
2. Natasha Frost, “Amid the Holocaust’s Horrors, Many Jews Found Ways to Mark Hanukkah,” History, December 20, 2019.