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Why America Needs Hanukkah In 2010

Hanukkah 2010 begins Wednesday night, December 1. As Americans celebrate Hanukkah 5771 on the Jewish calendar, we also begin to wind up the first decade of the 21st century, and what a decade it has been. 

We went to war and remain so to this day. 

Israel and the Palestinians are still unable (unwilling? lack the desire?) to make peace.

The economy, both at home and in most of the developed world, is still shaky. Most of us still wonder exactly how close we came to another Great Depression, and some are still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It feels that with every passing day of the last decade, our personal lives, like the Hanukkah top known as a dreidel, spin faster and faster. That’s the world of Hanukkah 2010, a world that needs Hanukkah and the opportunity it provides ─ to remember, reconnect, and renew.

This is not a Jewish thing, anymore than the world needing the beauty and promise of the Christmas story, even though we are not all Christian and will not all agree about the theological meaning of that story. This is about an ancient holiday which promises ways of helping us through turbulent times.

On Hanukkah we remember that we have it within us to play the game of life as much as the game plays us.We reconnect to the source of that ability, wherever we may find it. 

Hanukkah is a time of heroes, of people who made miracles happen and no matter what the cynic may say, heroism is not dead and there really are still heroes in our world.

In fact, today’s real heroes may be much closer than we realize. They may even be staring back at us when we look in the mirror. And that’s where the story of Hanukkah comes in.

Most of us, Jewish or not, have some knowledge of the story of brave, strong Judah Maccabee fighting to liberate the Temple in Jerusalem. But do we recall that he was a small town boy with few material or institutional resources at his disposal when he began his career? In all likelihood there was little special about Judah and his family until circumstance and their own determination presented them with a challenge which they saw as an opportunity.

In a culture that too often substitutes celebrity for heroism, and cynicism for sophistication, we need to recall that part of the story, also. It's the part that reminds us that everyone is already a hero, or at least has the capacity to be one.

Each of us, according to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, is a living Hanukkah candle capable of spreading our own inner light in the world and living a story of heroism by doing so. Each of us can live our most deeply held values in ways that not only improve our own lives, but contribute to the lives of those with whom we live and work.

Rabbi Kook knows that true heroism begins with a sense of our own capacity and the need to resist the urge to minimize either it, or the obligation to rise up and make use of it in the best way we can.

What do we have in common with Judah Maccabee? A potential for heroism. In an age when people question whether there really are heroes anymore, Hanukkah reminds us that there are always heroes and we are they -- if we give ourselves permission.

Brad Hirschfield is the author of "You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism," and the President of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the author of "You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism," and president of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.