So how do you spell Hannukah?
There actually is a correct way: Chet, nun, vav, kaf, hey. But in English, there's disagreement. Some prefer to spell it phonetically, starting it with a "ch." Some, like myself, like the simplicity of a sole "h" to begin the name. But there are so many variations even beyond that; One or two n's? Do you use a solo "k" or do you need a "ck" combinationt? And how do we end the English nomenclature of our Festival of Lights? With an a? an ah? A friend told me that she learned that you can spell it any way you want so long as the word has 8 letters.
oy ... It may be easier to just learn the Hebrew!
There is no right way to spell Hannukah. Each of you are perfectly fine having your own spelling. But as we venture down this slightly silly discussion on the proper English spelling of Hebrew words, there is a serious point to be gleaned, and it is a point that reflects on Hannukah itself: We do not need to normalize each other. We do not need to be the same, believe the same, feel the same, or do the same.
As we celebrate this fourth night of Hannukah, let us remember the real miracle of our holiday: The Hasmoneans and the Maccabees took Judaism into their own hands. They decided how they would express their Jewish identity, and they fought for it. To celebrate Hannukah is to celebrate each of our unique expressions of Judaism. I recently read that the miracle of Hannukah is not that the oil lasted for eight days when it should have only lasted for one. The miracle of Hannukah was the courage to light the match.
There is no right way to spell Hannukah. There is not a right way to be Jewish. At a later point, we can discuss if there is, however, a wrong way to be Jewish. But tonight, we take heed of the miracle of religious freedom in America that has allowed us to freely explore our Jewish identity. Like the Maccabees, we should continue fighting for this miracle: the ability to express religion differently than others, the gift of not being forced to be normalized. Each of us is a beautiful flame that lights the menorah of Judaism. And to quote Peter, Paul and Mary, Don't let the light go out.
One of my favorite teachings about Hannukah comes from the Talmud. It's talking about what to do with the menorah after you have finished lighting. The Talmud tells us to publicize the miracle. We typically do this by displaying the menorah in a window, so that passerby can see the flickering lights. But this is just symbolism. Just as swinging a chicken over our heads before Yom Kippur does not absolve us of our sin, the placing of the menorah in the window is not the essence of what it means to publicize the miracle.
To publicize the miracle of Hannukah, we need to live joyful, full Jewish lives. We need to courageously live out our our Jewish values - education, peace, the courage to speak truth to power, protecting the religious freedom of others who are not as blessed as us, to consistently perform acts of Tikkun Olam ... On this Hannukah, let us recommit ourselves to helping others to publicize their miracle. We can be the lights on the menorah ... During Hannukah, we remember that our lives can be miracles, however you choose to spell it.