Chanukah 2007
Hanukkah menorahs will be lit tonight all over the world. The public menorah displays, which symbolize freedom, recall how a small group of Jews defeated a strong and organized enemy army of Syrian Greeks more than 2,100 years ago in Israel. When the Jews recaptured their temple they lit the menorah, which miraculously burned for eight days.
Nowadays governors, mayors, senators, even prime ministers and presidents, join the candle-lighting festivities.
In Washington, D.C., there is a national menorah lighting ceremony. In Russia, a country where religion was banned for much of the 20th century, officials gather in Red Square for Hanukkah festivities.
America’s Hanukkah tradition goes back to our first president. The following story is found in a book called “Jews on the Frontier” by Rabbi I. Harold Sharfman. 
Gen. Washington visited a well known Jewish family on his way to Fort Sackville on the Wabash River. The religious family that welcomed him was that of Corporal Michael Hart.  Washington told the Harts how the Hanukkah festival had inspired him during the previous year at Valley Forge, when morale had sunk to its lowest ebb. The winter was cold, even colder to men lacking warm clothing, half of them without boots, all quartered in shabby huts eating rations.
It was at that period of gloom and despair that a young Jewish private tendered the general a ray of hope. The soldier had emigrated from Poland, where he and his people suffered misery. It was Christmas Day and the first night of Hanukkah. Christmas Day had been observed glumly and after eating their rations the men were bedded down for the night — all except the Jewish soldier. In a corner of the drafty wooden shack that served as their barracks, as quietly as possible, he lit his menorah.
Suddenly a hand touched his shoulder and a voice asked, “Why do you cry, son?”  Looking up, the soldier saw Gen. Washington making the rounds that evening. “Actually, I am not crying. I’m praying with tears for your victory.”
“And what is this strange lamp?” asked his commander.
“This is my Hanukkah lamp.” The young man related briefly the ancient story — how long ago a small bedraggled but patriotic army routed a huge and powerful foe.
“You are a Jew, a son of the prophets and you say we will be
victorious?” the general declared, his eyes fixed on the flickering flames of the menorah.
“Yes,” the soldier unhesitatingly replied. “The God of Israel who helped the Maccabees will help to build here a land of freedom for the oppressed.”
Gen. Washington recalled on his luncheon visit to the Harts, when Hanukkah was again celebrated, that the warmth of the candles and the words of optimism and courage on that darkest night at Valley Forge uplifted him and gave him the fortitude to fight against all odds for victory.
In our days it has become a custom for the American president to celebrate the first day of Hanukkah with a menorah lighting and public statement. In California the governor participates in the Hanukkah festivity.
From George Washington to George Bush the message of freedom rings out loudly:  Right overcomes the might of evil. The bright little candle of the menorah is a beacon of light for the world.  It teaches that it takes the determination of a few and a little light to dispel a lot of darkness.
During these holiday seasons we pray for world peace and democracy. May this Hanukkah be a time that we all remember our brave men and women in strange countries, fighting for a most worthy cause: freedom from tyranny.