The Message of the Maccabees: In Argentina, Two Jewish Educators Reflect on the Meaning of Chanukah

In this reflection, Alejandra Mizrahi and Valeria Nahmias, two Jewish educators in Argentina, discuss the timeless Jewish values at the heart of Chanukah.

By Alejandra Mizrahi & Valeria Nahmias - Jewish Educators in Argentina | November 18, 2021

Alejandra Mizrahi (left) & Valeria Nahmias (right)

From the Maccabees to the global pandemic, Chanukah offers each generation eight nights to think about adversity, hope, and resilience. In this reflection, Alejandra Mizrahi and Valeria Nahmias, two Jewish educators in Argentina, discuss the timeless Jewish values at the heart of Chanukah and what this holiday has to teach us for the pandemic times we live in. 

Chanukah, the festival of light, brings a particular message every year. And for each generation, the message of the Maccabees is imbued with new meaning. Chanukah challenges us, speaking to each of us, face to face. Young and old, women and men, each generation and each person must discover this meaning for themselves.

Even so, there are certain timeless Jewish values that persist from year to year. Chanukah invites us to have hope and never give up. It teaches us that no matter what adversity we face, we must never stop doing our part: We must try to do our best, commit ourselves to something, and take risks.

And if we approach Chanukah “in light of” the pandemic, we can see what it has to teach us. It has shown us that the unexpected can appear at any time, that not everyone is the same each day, that challenges come suddenly, and that a positive, proactive attitude always helps.

It has taught us that miracles do exist, and even more so when a person or a group works together to make those miracles happen.

 Chanukah has taught us that miracles do exist, especially when a person or a group works together to make those miracles happen.

It has taught us that light can be born from darkness and that it can empower us.

It has taught us that a crisis is a great opportunity to bring out the best in everyone.

It has taught us that surprises can enliven and mobilize us.

At our school, Chanukah is all about being present. This holiday gives us the unique chance to come together and light candles each day, near the window so that everyone can see. And not just one or two candles, but three, four, five and more. The number grows day by day, and the week becomes brighter and brighter, with more power, more reach, as if the light were contagious, shining out in every direction.

Eight days! One more day than the divine creation, one more day for us humans to create something for ourselves, one more day to continue believing.

The dreidel teaches us that, though things might sometimes take a turn for the worse, it’s by turning things that we can make miracles happen, just like JDC does each day across Argentina and the world. 

We listen to the voice of our elders speaking in Yiddish — that language so strange and yet so much our own — when we say “Chanukah gelt” to refer to the coins our grandparents received as children from their grandparents before them. We close our eyes and savor the sufganiyot, fried sugary morsels that remind us of the small jar of olive oil found in the Temple in Jerusalem.

And in that memory — of voices, flavors, the cold metal dreidel, the smell of burning matches — all our senses come to bear. We feel the pride and strength of our people as they shout in the face of any adversity, anywhere in the world, at any time, “Chazak ve’ematz!

Be strong and brave, here and now!

At the Jewish Day School “Beth” in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Alejandra Mizrahi serves as the Executive Director and Valeria Nahmias serves as the Director of Jewish Instruction. They’ve both participated in JDC’s regional trainings for educators across Latin America.

Global Jewish Reflections is a recurring feature highlighting the spiritual wisdom of rabbis, Jewish educators, and others from around the JDC world.

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