RABBI BURT VISOTZKY (Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies, Jewish Theological Seminary): We wanted to make it clear that this wasn't going to be just another Hanukkah program. We wanted it to be a mix. We wanted there to be music, we wanted there to be fun.

ABIGAIL POGREBIN (Author): This is your levity, for the night.

RABBI VISOTZKY: You can't have holiness without preparation, and you can't just roll into the holidays, and say, "Okay, let's do it."

AMICHAI LAU-LAVIE (Lab/Shul): Each of the people coming up here tonight will be a candle, a beacon, a lighthouse, a candlestick.

RABBI VISOTZKY: It is the job of a Jew, it's the job of any human being created in God's image to add light to the world.

RABBI DAVID INGBER (Founder and Spiritual Director, Romemu): Hanukkah is, without a doubt, as the holiday itself says, that there was, from a small jar, there became a lot of light. It is the quintessential holiday of how to work with darkness.

Hannukah-Reignited-post01POGREBIN: You said to me at one point that the miracle was not that the oil lasted, but that they looked for it at all.

RABBI INGBER: If the miracle of Hanukkah was that the oil lasted for eight days—it's not true. It had enough oil for one day.

POGREBIN: So it lasted for seven. The miracle is seven.

RABBI INGBER: So why do we celebrate eight days? What's that original, additional day? And I heard someone say something very beautiful. He said, "Looking for light itself is a miracle."

RABBI VISOTZKY: When we talk about Hanukkah, the word literally means "dedication." And it presumably celebrates the rededication of the Temple after the Jews recaptured it from the Greeks. And we need to re-dedicate ourselves, I think, annually, maybe even daily.

BRUCE FEILER (Author and Host, Sacred Journeys): The balance of power in Judaism is moving away from synagogue-based celebrations to home-based. That is rising in importance. And Judaism, because of Shabbat, because of Hanukkah, because of the Passover Seder, because of a whole series of things actually has a leg up in this transition, because so much of it is already based in the home.

RABBI VISOTZKY: Even though we do it at home, when we light the hanukkiyah, what some people call the menorah, the eight candles plus the little ninth service candle, we put it in the window. And letting everybody see here we are, this is our holiday, and every night as you walk by my window you’ll see more light.

RABBA SARA HURWITZ (Dean, Yeshivat Maharat): This is one of the times where Chabad actually might have gotten it right. The bigger, the better, the larger the menorah, the more central it is. Publicizing the mitzvah is inherent to celebrating Hanukkah.

CANTOR MO GLAZMAN (Senior Cantor, Central Synagogue, New York City) singing: “Every flame is a signal, we don’t hide any more, put the light in the window, that’s what Hanukkah’s for.”

RABBI VISOTZKY: If the rabbis could have, they would have suppressed the holiday entirely because it’s militaristic. They really couldn’t stand the Maccabees. The truth is in the Jewish community, in the Christian community, in the Muslim community we find both manifestations. It’s in every one of our own human nature. Part of us is a little militant, and part of us is a little yearning for light.

RABBI JILL HAMMER (Academy for Jewish Religion): I want to direct our attention to the ritual object at the front of the room. And I want you, for a minute, to forget about the story. Whatever story we tell, the object is designed to have a transformative effect on us. And the transformative effect has to do with bringing light out of darkness.

Peter Yarrow and New York City cantors sing “Light One Candle.”

RABBI VISOTZKY: Time has passed on the High Holidays, we're meant to be reflective, and then we have a chance for Hanukkah. If we do it that way, to say "All right, so how am I doing?" And if the measure is "am I adding light to the world?" and you can answer that "yes," then you are in a good place.

Hanukkah Reignited at Jewish Theological Seminary

Hanukkah, the Jewish eight-day festival of lights, begins next Tuesday night (December 16). It remembers the time long ago when Jews wanted to purify their reclaimed temple in Jerusalem by burning ritual oil. They only had enough oil for one day, but miraculously that small amount lasted for eight. Earlier this month, the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York assembled prominent scholars and others to explore new themes for the Hanukkah celebration.