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The First Hanukkah: A Personal Account
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The First Hanukkah: A Personal Account

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Laurie Franklin

Laurie Franklin

Tonight, I could not make myself go to sleep. The sound of war in the streets of Jerusalem, with us many days, has given way to song and greeting. I am only just beginning to absorb this miracle of redemption.

For many months, I carried water from the well north of our home, following the back alleys, fading into stone wall and paver as I went, hiding at the sound of heavy footsteps that might mean the soldiers of Antiochus were close. Over the last few weeks, we could hear running, shouting, and clashing in the streets and across the rooftops. We hid in our home, daring only to go out when absolutely necessary.

Then, the sounds of war ceased. Slowly, cautiously, we emerged from our houses to find the city empty of invaders. The Maccabee fighters called out to us, "Come out, come out; we are free!" Today, going to draw water was a joyous romp in open air, neighbors smiling in the streets and at their doors.

Now, it is dark but almost dawn. From our rooftop, I see the city, still bright with soft light, but not as gloriously radiant as a few, short hours ago. Earlier, there was a bonfire in every square, and the top of the mountain, where the Holy Temple stands, was bathed in the light of many torches. Even now, the Temple is glowing. Our once-dark city is celebrating.

The invaders were here longer than I can remember; they tell me it began before I was born. They slew many Temple priests and drove others from Jerusalem to the hill country. The Temple and its courtyards became a stable for their horses and a place to raise their swine. The smoke of holy sacrifice and incense no longer rose from the Temple to invite Divine Presence into our midst. We were alone and seemingly abandoned in our own place. We gathered to pray in houses with darkened windows. Some people disappeared; we did not know where they went. And others whispered that fighters were gathering in the hills against the invaders.

Now, we know more: a rebel force came from the hills and engaged Antiochus's soldiers. Although the fighters were outnumbered, thanks to God, they prevailed. They surprised the army, who had become accustomed to victory and were not watchful. The hill fighters struck, like a hammer, with power and purpose, and drove the army from the Temple and the streets of Jerusalem.

And now, we rejoice! Although the harvest has passed, we can safely celebrate the Feast of Sukkot, building our harvest booths, drawing water at the spring of Shiloam, praying for a good winter of rain to fill the wells and bathe the soils for the next year of crops. Such light and joy in this season of miracles!

In this moment, we will rededicate our Temple and resume the rituals that sustain us and bring Holy Presence into our lives. My prayer for all of us: May we appreciate the miracle of our redemption, and may we live in strength and health.

Rabbi Laurie Franklin is the spiritual leader of Congregation Har Shalom. She can be reached at rabbilaurie@har-shalom.org.  

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