The Jewish community all over the world is celebrating the first night of Hanukkah, as the Festival of Lights begins at sundown Thursday.
"What we're really celebrating is the spiritual survival of the Jewish people, of the Jewish heritage," said Rabbi Mark Wildes, founder and director of Manhattan Jewish Experience.
The holiday is one tied specifically to the land of Israel.
A spinning top played with on Hanukkah, known as a dreidel, displays four letters. Outside of Israel, each letter symbolizes the Hebrew phrase "A great miracle happened there," and dreidels in Israel have letters that say "A great miracle happened here."
That miracle is the Jews' victory over the Greeks and the rededication of the second temple in second-century BCE. They regained the freedom to practice Judaism openly after being forced to do so in hiding.
"The Jewish community was living, as I said, occupied by this larger colonial force, the Greek Empire, and they were intent on imposing not only political sovereignty over the Jews in ancient Israel, but ideological as well," said Wildes.
Rabbi Susan Shankman says the story took on an amplified meaning in Israel after the 1967 War, when the small Israeli army fought off multiple Arab nations in six days. It’s a poignant holiday once again as the war between Israel and Hamas rages and as many outside of Israel question Jews' connection to the land.
"We have remains from that second temple. Anytime you go to Israel today, you go to Jerusalem, you go to the Western Wall," he said.
Now, antisemitism is surging worldwide. Many Hanukkah events have been canceled and some Jews are debating whether to display their menorahs in the window — something that is required as part of the holiday — out of safety concerns.
"I personally feel that it is really important for us to continue to show our Jewish pride, to speak up and speak out for ourselves," said Shankman.
Rabbi Shankman says the holiday is one in which Jews are supposed to display their pride and bring more light into the world.
"I think light increases when we share with others. You light one candle, if you take one candle and you light another candle, it doesn't diminish the light, it increases the light," said Shankman.
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