Tonight is the final night of Hanukkah. It was my first time lighting my own menorah without my mother. I almost didn't light the candles tonight because I can't chant in Hebrew, I don't know the prayer by heart.
Before Thanksgiving (which incidentally was the first night of Hanukkah this year), the teacher I work for allowed me to borrow a class copy of Maus by Art Spiegelman. It's a graphic novel that chronicles one family's struggles during the Holocaust. This is one of my favorite panels and also encapsulates my feelings about Hanukkah:
In that panel, the narrator's wife wants to give up because her family has all died. Her husband encourages her that it's important that they keep surviving and that in their love there is something worth living for.
Hanukkah, in many ways, is a celebration of the strength to persevere.
As I was saying, I wasn't going to light my menorah but I remembered a conversation I had with an attorney at my last job. He, himself also a Jew, asked me whether I lived Jewish (observe the Sabbath, attend synagogue regularly, eat kosher). I told him that I do these things but only sporadically and at the urging of my mother. The attorney told me that he was the same way until he began wanting to know more about Judaism. His curiosity led him to a book about the expelling of Jews from Spain and he told me the story of one girl who was brought for inquisition. When asked about her day to day life, the girl said that her family did not eat pork and changed the bed sheets on Friday. These were they only Jewish practices that had survived in her family and she, herself, did not consider herself a Jew. These two obscure practices were enough, however, for the Spanish government to convict her of being a Jewess and she was executed.
Knowing that people like this girl and the lives lost not just to the Holocaust but to genocide and religious revolutions around the globe had paid the ultimate price for their faiths, the attorney could no longer continue to not observe his religious practices. The freedom to practice your faith freely is a sacred privilege.
Thinking of him and this story, I was inspired to light my menorah and be grateful for all the privileges and freedoms I have.