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One Chanukah in DSM

Celebrating Chanukah in 2021

November 22, 2021

An enduring symbol within Judaism is the presence of a light in holy places that is never allowed to go out. This light is representative of the abiding presence of God in our lives, of the divinity in the smallest miracles.

The Festival of Lights

The origins of Chanukah go back to King David's building of the first Temple. Over the next thousand years, the Temple was destroyed, then rebuilt and then destroyed again, but it remained the focus of religious practice. The Temple was lit with an oil lamp, generally believed to be the seven-branched menorah that Moses was told to build when he came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments.

Chanukah is celebrated in remembrance of when the second Temple was made pure again and the menorah was finally re-lit. It is also the celebration of a miracle — after retaking the Temple, there was only enough oil for the lamp to stay lit for one day but it lasted for eight days instead, long enough for more oil to be prepared. That is why Chanukah is also known as the Festival of Lights.

Chanukah is celebrated for eight nights by lighting candles in a nine-branched Chanukah menorah. Why nine branches if the celebration is for eight nights? The ninth position is there to differentiate these candles from those we might use just for light, so on the first night two candles are lit and then one is added each night after.

Chanukah in our Family

For me, Chanukah is generally more about family and traditions than it is about the biblical story. Getting time together as a family can feel like a rare event these days. During Chanukah, we get see each other eight nights in a row! We all take a break from whatever we are doing to sing the prayers and light the menorah.

The miracle of the oil lasting for eight days instead of one created another tradition: to eat foods prepared with oil. While my family enjoys my fried potato latkes (pancakes), often enjoyed with apple sauce we’ve made from scratch, what they really enjoy is the sufganiyot (donuts)!

How Central Iowa Businesses Can Incorporate Chanukah

What can businesses in Greater Des Moines (DSM) do to recognize, celebrate or otherwise educate about Chanukah? If there’s a Christmas tree at your office, one easy thing to do would be to have an electric menorah as well, turning on an additional light each night. A lot of people have a holiday party with co-workers — perhaps you can include some donuts with the rest of the treats! Or, consider adding a floating holiday or holidays to your benefits program to allow employees to take time off to celebrate a holiday that is important to them.

Lessons can be learned from the Chanukah story outside of the religious themes. Especially when many of us have experienced COVID-induced separation from those we love and a sometimes less-than-elevated social discourse nationally, we would all do well to remember that it was in-fighting between two religious factions within the Kingdom of Israel that ultimately led to the destruction of the second Temple. Focusing on what made them different, rather than what made them a community, resulted in the eventual destruction of the Kingdom. Finally, for some the miracle of the oil is a reminder of our shared duty to protect our finite world and preserve the abundance we enjoy today.

Happy Chanukah, and Happy Holidays to all. Wishing you and your family peace this holiday season.

Greater Des Moines (DSM) welcomes diverse talent to the region. As one of the fastest growing business communities, inclusion and attracting diverse talent in the workplace is a key strategy of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Learn more here.

Meyer Lehman

Meyer Lehman is an executive vice president of EMC Insurance Companies and is a member of EMC's executive leadership team. Meyer also is a treasurer of the board of directors for the Des Moines Community Playhouse. Meyer enjoys spending time with his family, family bike rides, traveling, triathlons, sailing and obstacle course races.