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TELLING THE HANUKKAH STORY TO CHILDREN

Each year, at Hanukkah time, we retell the legend of the cruse of oil, enough for but one day that miraculously burned for 8 days. Ask any child why Hanukkah is observed for 8 days and we are almost certain to hear about this "miracle."

The truth is that the legend is merely a legend; it has no basis in historical fact. But this is beside the point. By stressing the legend, we miss conveying to children what is most significant about Hanukkah. Hanukkah is not about lights or miracles. It is about identity; it is about minority rights; it is about standing up for who we are.

If I were telling the Hanukkah story to my children, this is what I would stress:

The Syrian King Antiochus wanted all the different people in his empire to be exactly the same; to dress the same way, to eat the same way, the think the same way and to pray to God the same way.

The Maccabees said no. They did not want to give up what was special to them and about them. Their idea was that every group should have the right to be whatever they wanted to be. The world would really be a boring place if everyone were exactly the same. What makes the world interesting is that each group of people has is its own customs, its own traditions, its own way of doing things. That's what makes us special. That's what makes us interesting.

Many years ago there was a national radio program called The Breakfast Club. During each program, there was a moment devoted to prayer. The announcer used to introduce this moment by saying: "Each in his own words, each in his own way, let us bow our heads and pray." The Maccabees would have agreed with this idea. We can all be part of the same country, the same people; we can all be Americans, and do things in different ways. There isn't only one right way to laugh, or to dance or to sing. If God wanted us to be all the same, God would have made us all the same. But God made us different. Our skin color may be different, our language may be different, our ideas might be different, yet we are all God's children and God loves us as we are, because that is how God made us.

The great miracle of Hanukkah is that Maccabees understood this over 2100 years ago. But there are still people today who don't understand this. They think that if someone is different, or looks different, or acts differently that it is all right to make fun of him or her. The Maccabees wouldn't have agreed with this at all. They would have said that it is wrong, just as what Antiochus tried to do was wrong. They would have said "each in his own words, each in his own way."

The light that the Maccabees tried to bring in to the world a long time ago is something we very much need today. The real miracle would be if the light could burn brightly, not just 8 days, but always.