By Rabbi Mark Glickman
(AJNews) – It was the least popular suggestion I’d ever made during the many years of my rabbinate, and the people to whom I suggested it rejected it quicker than you can say Maoz Tzur.
Was it my synagogue board who rejected this brilliant idea? Or maybe the ritual or education committee? Nope. This group was far more obstreperous than any board or committee I’ve ever worked with. This rejection came from the students in my religious school.
My suggestion, if I do say so myself, made a lot of sense. “Chanukah,” I opined to the young people at our congregation, “should actually be only seven days long. After all, Chanukah celebrates the time when our ancestors, under the leadership of Judah Maccabee, reconquered the Temple in Jerusalem. There…well, you know the story…they only found one jar of oil to light the Temple’s flame – enough to last a single day. But then, a great miracle happened there, and that one day’s-worth of oil lasted for fully eight days, and ever since then, we’ve celebrated Chanukah in commemoration of that miracle.
“But if you think about it,” I continued, “the ‘great miracle’ only lasted for seven days. After all, during the first day, all that you had was one day’s oil lasting for one day – big deal! The true miracle was what happened on days two through eight.
“So Chanukah,” I concluded, “this celebration of God’s miracle, should only last for seven days, right?”
Needless to say, the response was less than overwhelming. For some reason, those eager youngsters wanted Chanukah to last for the full eight days!
“OK,” I said, “but then you’ve got to give me a good reason.”
“Presents are good,” I said, “but I’d be glad to tell your parents to double up on the gifts one night – the holiday would make more sense that way.
“It’s always been eight days,” argued an eager boy from the grade-3 class.
“And taxes always come out of my paycheck,” I said, “but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
The kids looked at me with blank stares.
“Look, I said, until anyone can give me a good reason, I think we’ll just cut this holiday down by one day.”
The kids looked at each other frantically, as if pleading, “Someone, say something!”
“Wait,” chimed in David from the back of the room. “If they knew that they only had enough oil to last one day, why did they light it in the first place?”
“Hmm…,” I said. “I don’t know. Why do you think?”
“Maybe they thought more oil would get there soon,” said Madison.
“Or maybe they thought that, when God saw the flame, God would know to send more oil,” suggested Sam.
“Or maybe they just knew that it would all be OK somehow,” Jessie said.
“So you’re saying that here these people went into that Temple after it had been trashed in the war, and even though their situation looked so hopeless, they lit that flame, anyway?”
“Yes,” all the kids answered.
“So even at a time when things were falling apart, they stayed positive and optimistic?
“And that even with so little, they still believed that God would be there for them”
“Yes!” they shouted.
“That’s amazing,” I replied. “That’s awesome! That’s…that’s…that’s a miracle!”
The ovation was deafening.
“So let’s celebrate our ancestors’ hope this year,” I shouted, “and let’s make Chanukah Eight. Days. Long.”
And that’s how Chanukah survived as an eight-day festival for the Reform Jews of Calgary, Alberta. May your Chanukah this year and every year be a celebration of hope and faith, just as it was during the first-day miracle so many centuries ago.
Rabbi Mark Glickman is the spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Tikvah, Calgary’s Reform Jewish congregation.