When I hear the plans for increased U.S. troop build up in Iraq I wonder where are we heading?  Why is it so important that we have such a large presence there?  Haven’t we lost enough lives fighting for the region?  Our military and elected officials tell us that our forces will guarantee Iraq’s national elections.  By providing a show of force democracy is within reach.  Stability will prevail and the people will live happily ever after.


This kind of wishful thinking is great but in reality it will take a lot more than military power to turn Iraq’s politics around.   We need to get to their spiritual soul and only then will peace prevail.


Here at home we need inspiration for our weary nation, soldiers, and their families.  For that I turn to the many winter holidays.


There is Las Posadas, a Hispanic holiday, Kwanzaa, an African American holiday, Xmas, a Christian holiday, Ramadan, an Islamic holiday, Diwali, a Hindu holiday, and Hanukah, a Jewish holiday.  All these holidays are celebrated with candles or lanterns, bringing light and dispelling darkness.


This coming week Jewish people the world over will be celebrating their holiday Hanukah.  The highlight of this holiday is the custom of lighting bright candles.  They are lit in a special candleholder called a menorah.  The Hanukah candles in particular are symbolic of freedom achieved by an oppressed group.  Some 2000 years ago when Jews had a temple in ancient Israel many different kingdoms conquered them.


The Syrian Empire was dominated by the dynasty of the Seleucides whose king was Antiochus III.  He waged war with King Ptolemy and was beaten by the Romans.  The Syrians, Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans all claimed the holy land of Israel as their sole property.  Syrian-Greek cultural and foreign pagan customs were imposed on the Jewish population.


Around 140 B.C.E. a small religious group led by an old priest, Mattisyahu, rebelled.  It began in the small village of Modin, Israel.  Mattisyahu gathered his five sons and proclaimed, “I, my sons and my brothers are determined to remain loyal to the covenant which the Almighty made with our ancestors!” 


In the historical book of Josephus it is told of the many wars between the Jewish people, called Hasmoneans, against unbelievable odds.  An army of 40,000 professional warriors, armed to the teeth and reinforced with armor-clad elephants, likened to modern day tanks, swept across the land devastating large parts of Israel.  It was with high human cost, self-sacrifice, and brave spirit that the rebellion against the oppressors was successful.


Legend passed from generations to generations tells of the Hasmoneans returning to Jerusalem, entering the temple, finding the gold menorah gone.  It had been melted and sold to the oppressors.  They made a new menorah of cheaper metal and found a small cruse of oil that miraculously burned for eight days.  The miracle of Hanukah speaks of a determined people who fought to prove that what is right are attainable under any conditions.  Imagine for a moment if this small group of people, believing in justice and freedom, achieved their goal how much more so can we be assured that during the winter holidays, with mutual respect for each other’s religious beliefs and lights, we will be successful.


It is said that one light dispels much darkness.  Imagine the intensity of the many lights.  I am sure that even the darkest moments of the fighting in Iraq and the Mid East the candle lights will dispel all darkness and the holidays of humankind will be happily celebrated.


So this holiday when I light my candles I will pray for world peace.  That our servicemen and women be safe and be able to share their holidays in joy and safety.  A Time for War – A Time for Peace Ecclesiastes 3,8. 


This year Hanukah begins on Tuesday night, December 7th.  A happy Hanukah to all of you.