Chanukah is one week away. Yippee!
It's a minor holiday, but I like Chanukah. There's so much meaning behind lighting those candles. It was the promise of sharing those candles with my children that first started my journey towards more traditional Judaism.
We didn't always keep kosher. We didn't always celebrate Shabbat. We never said Motzi before meals. While we have always had a mezzuzah, it didn't always have meaning. It was more of a decoration. We never acknowledged it on our comings or goings. Aside from the copy of the Tanakh and the anchient copy of Gates of Repentance dh got for his bar mitzvah, we had no Jewish books.
Then, on one occasion, I saw someone light Shabbat candles and it suddenly occurred to me that, while our children had every right to kindle those flames, they wouldn't if we continued as we were then. Dh's grandmother had gone through so much to escape Nazi Germany, yet none of her grandchildren were raising Jewish children. She lit the Shabbat candles and Chanukah candles in Germany even when doing so threatened their lives. Yet, her struggles were in vain because none of us planned on raising Jewish kids much less observant ones. Our children had a right to those candles just as Bubbe did. That connection already existed in their blood. Who were we to deny them that? What right did we have to extinguish that flame?
That inspired me to look deeper into Judaism. The more I searched, the more my reasons for considering myself a secular Jew simply fell away. Most of what I read resonated with me--with my sense of ethics, with my morals, with my belief in G-d. Judaism gives me the freedom to wrestle with those few issues that I don't understand or with which I can't agree. I love that freedom to search and that expectation to understand.
My kids have never known life without those candles. We light candles with them for Shabbat. We light the candles on our big silver menorah for Chanukah. And last year, for the first time, they lit the candles on their own ones that they made themselves in Sunday school.
In Judaism, Chanukah is a minor holiday, but for me, it is far more important.