Chanukah and Jewish Joy

Last year, I learned of a TikTok trend: #blackmenfrolicking. I highly encourage you to watch some of these joyful videos. The concept was that Black men recorded themselves frolicking in fields, giggling, and being silly. On a deeper level, as several Black publications and TikTok accounts wrote, it was embracing Black joy, allowing themselves to put down the mask of seriousness and toughness and relish in something childlike and delightful. After spending a lot of time thinking and reading about racism and antisemitism, these videos summed up something I hadn’t spent as much time on: the transgressive, rebellious nature of joy.

I’ve been telling people this week that I don’t remember a year when I needed Chanukah more than this year. I always enjoy Chanukah, but this year I felt a deep and urgent commitment to celebrating Jewishly, after over two months of sleepless nights, hard days, seriousness, grief, and fear. I’ve arranged to do something delightful almost every night of the holiday; I’ve hosted gatherings; I’ve attended synagogue and parties; I’ve sung songs with my kids and husband. And our chanukiyah has been squarely and prominently displayed in our front window.

After lighting Chanukah candles, we traditionally recite the paragraph “Haneirot Hallalu” which details the purpose and meaning of the candles. At the end of it, we say, “Throughout the eight days of Chanukah, these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make use of them, but only to look at them, in order to offer thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, for Your wonders, and for Your salvations.”

Lighting the candles is an act we do for joy. We don’t use them. Traditionally, we don’t do work while they are lit. We just enjoy them, which gives us a chance to be grateful to God. The act of enjoying the candles is gratitude. At Chanukah, our mitzvah is to “publicize the miracle – pirsum et ha nes.” This year, the miracle I’ve been spreading the word about is embracing joy. As we leave Chanukah behind, may we learn from it to find more reasons to be joyful in the coming weeks and months.

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