Remember, for each comment written today, I will donate tzedakah. Through your comments over four days, we have donated a total of $138.00! What’s today’s tzedakah recipient? Scroll below.
Chanukah Blog Thots:
Chanukah is a holiday of stories, old and new. We retell the tale of the Maccabees boldly fighting for religious freedom. We share family stories or read Jewish folktales about Chanukah in distant and not-so-distant times. Many of these stories focus on the powerful symbolism of the Chanukah menorah (lamp), such that the Chanukah lights are an expression of Jewish identity and a symbol of hope for a better future. There are Holocaust tales of European Jews who somehow managed to gather around the menorah in the ghetto or to improvise one in the concentration camps. Other stories tell of American Jews who found hope and strength as they gathered around the Chanukah lights during the long winters of the 1930s and 1940s.
Although we are commanded to make known miracle of Chanukah by placing our Chanukah lights in the window, in many of these stories, the Jews had to hide their Chanukah menorahs out of fear. In such tales, the chanukiah (Chanukah menorah) symbolizes hope for a future free from religious persecution; a future in which Jews could reveal the light of the Chanukah lamp, openly declaring their identity and practicing Judaism without fear.
Displaying our Chanukah Lights
While the Jews in these Chanukah stories faced persecution, hid their identity for self-protection, and feared for their brothers and sisters, we are blessed to live in a country where we have freedom of religion. Many of our ancestors came to America in order to be free from religious persecution and to find the freedom to practice (or not practice) religion as they saw fit. When we proudly display our Chanukah lights, we are celebrating the very blessings for which so many Jews could only hope.
Freedom of religion allows Jews and people of other faiths or no faith to worship or refrain from worship as they see fit. Religious freedom is guaranteed for all Americans by the First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Our Bill of Rights has allowed religion to flourish in America by preventing the government from inhibiting religious practice and from harming or interfering with religious institutions.
A Nation that Thrives on Religious Freedom
In a November 2004 press conference, President George Bush explained the importance of the separation of Church and State: “We live in a nation that has thrived on religious freedom and religious tolerance. Our founding fathers realized the dangers of building a society based upon a single state religion. They rightly feared the tyranny of state sponsored religion. Rather, the framers put up a wall of separation between Church and State. This separation has allowed all different religious groups — Jews, Christians, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus and secularists to flourish in this country.”
Yet we have witnessed a growing presence of overt religion in the halls of government. Many elected representatives proclaim themselves the embodiment of religious values. Others declare that America is, and therefore ought to act like, a Christian nation. Such sentiments threaten the tradition of liberty that is at the core of America’s identity.
Is America a Christian Nation?
America is not just a nation for Christians; it is a nation for all. (At best it is founded on Judeo-Christian values. And while a very large number of American citizen are of one of many different Christian denominations, these denominations often cannot agree with one another on basic tenets of their creed.) Not all Americans read the Bible in the same way as religious fundamentalists. Those of us who read the Bible understand its text against the backdrop of our own faith traditions and personal life experiences. Many Americans do not look to the Bible for religious guidance at all. To turn the halls of government – and the mission of government – into a mission of faith is to destroy one of the pillars upon which our nation rests. The light of religious liberty is being threatened. Not by those who would destroy religion, but by those, who, out of devotion to their own religious beliefs, wish to impose their worldview on others through force of law.
This spread of religion into government is evident in the drive to embed one group’s religious beliefs regarding marriage, women’s rights, protection of the environment and even the validity of scientific discovery into the legal codes that govern us all. The problem is not with faith; rather, it is with the imposition of one person or a group’s beliefs onto the entire nation.
Focusing on the Second Chanukah Blessing
For Jews, religious liberty flows through the story of Chanukah. When we recite the second blessing over the Chanukah lights (…sheh-asah neeseem lavotaynu), giving thanks for the miracles that God performed for our ancestors, we acknowledge the importance of religious liberty. This prayer recalls our ancestors’ celebration as they were no longer subject to tyrannical rulers who prevented them from practicing their faith. Indeed, it is our religious beliefs that inspire us to fight for religious liberty for all and for the preservation of the separation of Church and State.
This Chanukah, as we gather around the menorah and rejoice with family, friends and Jews around the world, may we remember our call to and the benefits of religious liberty. May we work to keep the light of liberty shining brightly.
Blog Tzedakah: The seven of you who left comments yesterday ensured that collectively, we donated $21 of my money to the Or Ami Matching Grant Fund, meaning that today it was worth $42 of tzedakah.
Today’s Tzedakah: Comments you write today will yield donations to the Madraygot (12 Step) Addiction Prevention fund, which offers drug and alcohol addiction prevention education and counseling for grades 4 through 12, creates tools for parents through an online resource, and develops Jewish 12 Step support groups. Learn more about its activities here. To donate yourself, click here.
Chag Chanukah Samayach – Happy Chanukah!