On the evening of December 2nd, Jews around the world will begin the celebration of Chanukah. This eight-day holiday commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greek Emperor Antiochus, who forced Jews to worship idols rather than one G-d. Following this defeat came the rededication of Jerusalem’s Temple. Chanukah, in fact, means rededication.
Whether we communicate in Russian, Spanish, Ladino, Amharic, French or almost any other language spoken around the globe, Jews throughout the world will recite the same series of Hebrew blessings over their candles to welcome this holiday. The candles – one added each night – help us remember the miracle of the small quantity of oil that provided light to the Temple’s menorah for eight days. Hence, Chanukah is also referred to as the “Festival of Lights.”
This miracle that is celebrated each year is illustrative of the Jewish concept of peoplehood. Wherever we live – Kiev, Budapest, Addis Ababa, Jerusalem or San Diego – and however we live – whether we practice the religious tenets of Judaism or consider ourselves atheists – there is a common thread that binds the Jewish people together. Though often complex because of our inherent diversity of language, religious practice and disbursement around the world, this thread weaves together the tapestry of our 4,000-year-old history, while also providing a roadmap to continue that history in a modern world.
Peoplehood is a sense of unity that has permeated Jewish life for millennia. It makes us part of something that is bigger than ourselves. In Hebrew, it is described as “kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh” or “all Jews are responsible for each other.” This communal responsibility, this joint responsibility to care for one another, is even written into Jewish law.
The Jewish Federation of San Diego County is the vehicle that brings the local Jewish community together in the most inclusive terms. The Federation provides programs and services for everyone from babies to children to youth to teens to young adults to adults and to seniors. These programs and services address Jewish education, continuity, identity, leadership, social justice, community service and an array of social services for those in need. We are able to do this because of our generous donors whose philanthropy makes the world a better place. This is the central imperative of Judaism.
We provide reasons to celebrate during good times, such as our annual Israfest that welcomes thousands of community members – Jewish and non-Jewish – to celebrate Israel’s birthday, and, unfortunately, during bad times, when we provide solace and support to those who are suffering, whoever they may be.
The Federation has been part of the fabric of San Diego since 1936 when an estimated 2,000 Jews formalized a philanthropic institution to help their brethren from overseas who were escaping persecution. While our focus has sometimes shifted over the past 80+ years, our core mission to help bring more light into the world has remain unchanged.