Commentary: Followers of many faiths joined together this holiday season

By Joel Simon

We are emerging into a new year from a period that has been marked by the religious holidays of Diwali, Christmas and Hanukkah and by the cultural festival of Kwanzaa. I think it is safe to say that most of us hope for a 2021 that brings health, a rejuvenated economy and a nation of people coming together.

Joel Simon

Several of my Christian friends asked me the meaning of Hanukkah. They wanted to wish me a merry Christmas but were afraid to offend me, as they know Jews don’t celebrate Christmas. In an effort to promote understanding, I’d like to explain what Hanukkah is and how it was recently celebrated at Seaside Jewish Community in Rehoboth Beach. I’d also like to add that I am never offended when someone wishes me something good and loving, even if they are of a different faith.

Hanukkah commemorates a war Jews won that led to both their freedom and the continued survival of their culture. This particular war occurred approximately 2,200 years ago, when Jews rose up against Greek-Syrian rulers who did not allow them to worship one God in a time of paganism. This event predates Christianity. The victory meant they could worship again in Jerusalem, in what is known as the Second Temple. Today, its remaining Western Wall is a sacred place. The Hanukkah lights represent a legend recalling the oil that kept the lamps going in the temple for eight days, while the Jews, led by Judah Maccabee, cleansed the defiled temple and rebuilt the alter. The oil that lasted these eight days was only supposed to last for one, hence, the miracle of Hanukkah. In Hebrew, Hanukkah means “rededication.”

This holiday, though minor, is a joyous one celebrated with blessings, songs, games, gifts and, of course, candle-lighting for eight days. It also brings together family and friends, another holiday in which to share a meal. Just like Christmas, it reminds us of things we are grateful for, of being generous and that we should strive to be holy and one with God in our hearts and through our deeds. This year, especially, as we could only gather virtually in a Zoom room, it reminded us of the importance of reaching out to those in need.

Seaside Jewish Community chose this Hanukkah season as a time to rededicate its building in Rehoboth Beach as a “holy space.” The building has been undergoing a renovation and expansion over the past year and has yet to be open. This rededication at Seaside was represented by hanging a mezuza on the front doorpost of the building, which is an ancient Jewish practice that fulfills the biblical commandment from Deuteronomy to write the words of God on the doorposts of one’s home. The parchment inside the mezuza case contains several verses of text from Hebrew Scripture, representing the most important Jewish prayers.

Due to the pandemic, only a few people were able to participate in this ceremony, but it was recorded so our community can experience it.

During this religious and cultural holiday period, something else occurred in Sussex County that reflects the true values of these days. Hindus, Christians, Jews, African Americans and others, working together, continued their ongoing efforts to help those in our communities who need food and shelter.

We have more in common than most of us realize.

Blessings and well wishes for a wonderful 2021.

Joel Simon is president of the Seaside Jewish Community in Rehoboth Beach.