As anyone with an elementary school Hebrew education or access to Wikipedia knows, King Antiochus’s armies looted the Second Temple in Jerusalem, outlawed Judaism, erected an alter to Zeus in the Temple and ordered pigs to be sacrificed there. The Maccabees revolted, the Temple was reclaimed and one day’s worth of oil ended up lasting eight.
The original Maccabean celebration was about the Jewish return to the Temple. Maybe in this era of dwindling congregations, we should consider taking the Maccabees’ story to heart.
As the infamous 2013 Pew Research Center study revealed, Jews are doing to Judaism what our enemies only ever dreamed of accomplishing: We’re leading ourselves to extinction. We intermarry at dizzying rates–when we marry at all. We have fewer kids than non-Jews–when we have kids at all, and a quarter of us identify as having no religion.
More to the point for this particular time of year, less than half of us are affiliated with a synagogue. This means that even many of us who light candles to celebrate the rededication of our house of worship don’t feel compelled to belong to a house of worship.
My non-affiliated Jewish friends explained this lack of interest in synagogue membership this way: They don’t join a synagogue because they see no value in it. They’re in book clubs and game clubs and Toastmasters. They take dance lessons and tennis lessons and cooking classes. Who has time for shul, and what would they do with a synagogue membership if they did bother to affiliate?
What my non-affiliated friends don’t recognize is that synagogue is not a bowling league; our relationship with shul is more communal, deeper and more meaningful.
When your father dies, your Fantasy Football buddies don’t fill your freezer with casseroles. When your daughter gets married, your barre class doesn’t throw her a bridal shower.
By all accounts, the Maccabees were religious nutters who resorted to all kinds of extremist behaviors that today we’d find appalling. But they did have one thing right: We Jews need a place to be Jewish.
We need a community to help us celebrate and mourn. We need a place where we can belong and feel valued. With more of us living farther from our families, we need a deeper bench when it comes to child-rearing and people with whom to celebrate the holidays. When we take a closer look at what’s missing in our lives, we might find that what we really need is a synagogue.
So this year, consider celebrating the rededication of the Temple by rededicating yourself to temple. It might be the best Hanukkah gift you’ve ever given yourself.
Mayrav Saar is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.