Incidentally, my 70-some year old Israeli friend from the gym is adamant that we should all pronounce the "ch" in Chanukah like in "chicken", but you shouldn't believe him. As with so many Jerusalemites, his is a fascinating story. He was born and raised on Mt. Scopus, an island of Israeli sovereignty adrift in the Jordanian occupied West Bank. I hadn't realized there was housing for families on Mt. Scopus at the time. When I asked him about this, he launched into a geography lesson of the streets and neighborhoods of late 1940's Jerusalem that left my eyes glazed over. When he was old enough to go to school, he was sent to a boarding house in West Jerusalem and could only go home once every two weeks, during the UN-coordinated convoy to Mt. Scopus. They used to shoot at them as kids, the Jordanian soldiers did. When he came of age, he qualified to be a fighter pilot and returned the favor. We sometimes also work out at the gym, honest.
I'll leave you with something of Chanukah that I wrote in 2006, back when I knew much more than I do now, and coordinated Jewish student activities on my university campus to prove it.
The Jewish calendar is filled to the brim with remembrances of tragedies and massacres, but Chanukah is NOT one of them! We were threatened as a people, physically and spiritually. We rose up to defend our nation and our faith, kicked some Hellenistic butt and prevailed. Chanukah is about the victory of the Jewish people over forces that wish to destroy us - including physical threats, but also those threats that undermine who we are as Jews and how we see ourselves in the world. As the physical threat to our survival has arguably decreased, the forces that seek our spiritual assimilation and dissolution are more vigorous than ever.
When we celebrate Chanukah, we not only remember the past, we rededicate ourselves to our heritage, to being Jews. This is why it is important to spread the message of Chanukah to every Jew - we each are dependent on one another for the survival and prosperity of the Jewish people. We light the Menorah and display it in as public a place as possible, so that the flame of the lit candles rekindles the fire in the soul of every Jew, allowing us to overcome any challenge to our physical and spiritual survival.
And how do we light the Menorah? On the first day we light just one candle, on the second two, on the third three, and so on, cumulatively, until we've lit all 8 candles. We are told in this week's Torah portion about the town of Timna - that it sat on the slope of a hill, and you could only either ascend or descend to reach it. We are told to draw a lesson from this for our Chanukah candle lighting, and to our everyday lives. There are only two types of actions that one can make in the world - those that either elevate or lower us in relation to our prior state. With each night of Chanukah, we light one more candle, to signify our growth, our ascent, over the previous day. Having elevated ourselves eight days in a row by lighting Chanukah candles, perhaps we'll set a similar pattern to follow in everyday life as well.