Every December 10th we celebrate Human Rights Day, the day the United Nations ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
That declaration reads in part:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world… Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion…
Likewise, Hanukkah is the Jewish festival that celebrates freedom of religion and thought. In 169 AD, King Antiochus of Syria pillaged Jerusalem and its holy Temple and massacred thousands of Jews because of their religious beliefs. On the 25th of Kislev (which this year falls on the evening of Dec. 12th), Judah Maccabee and his followers rose up and defeated Antiochus, taking back Jerusalem and rededicating their Temple (Hanukkah literally mean “rededication”). The Temple menorah needed to be rekindled, but only enough pure oil to last one day was able to be recovered. And you know how the rest of story goes…
Sixty-Nine years later, the principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights speak to us as loudly as ever: “…the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women…the right to life, liberty and security…without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.
Whatever your belief about the miracle of Hanukkah, we still come together to celebrate its most important miracle, which still challenging for humanity today: that of conquering fear and overcoming oppression. May we all be like Maccabees – those who believe that human dignity, justice and freedom are worth fighting for.
May your Hanukkah be filled with light and joy.
Rabbi Laurie Levy and Rabbi Steve Altarescu