Joint Base San Antonio, Texas —
Hanukkah, which is celebrated this year from sundown Dec. 24 to sundown Jan. 1, is known as the Festival of Lights. It is a time when Jews around the world celebrate the miracle of the Maccabees, the leaders of the Jewish rebel army, defeating the Syrian-Greek Empire and finding only enough pure oil to burn for one day in the holy temple.
Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days. Thus, the eight days of Hanukkah were established as a festival of thanksgiving, where one candle on the menorah is lit the first night and an additional one is lit each night afterwards.
“In the Jewish tradition, a ‘festival’ represents the annual return of the same spiritual force that resulted in the original miracle being commemorated,” Capt. Alan Kahan, 502nd Air Base Wing chaplain at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland said. “Just as the Maccabees triumphed against all odds in their war against the Greeks, we too, can overcome our individual physical and spiritual challenges. It is our opportunity to become a beacon of light to the entire world.”
The menorah, an eight-branched candleholder, is often displayed in the window of homes so passersby’s can see and share in the light of Hanukkah. In the same way, Kahan believes Airmen are meant to be a light in difficult seasons of life and to remind each other that even in the darkest times, light can be found.
Celebrating Hanukkah is important both personally and as an Airman for Kahan.
“I decided to join the military as a chaplain when I was in high school,” Kahan said. “I was motivated by the desire to give back and to support those who defend the constitution. My grandparents and great-grandparents were persecuted and murdered because of their faith but I grew up in a country that puts freedom of religion on its front banner. I wanted to give back and be part of ensuring that my children and their children would have that opportunity as well.”
For those reasons, Kahan does what he can to ensure Airmen have the opportunity to celebrate Hanukkah and rekindle their faith.
Since becoming a spiritual leader for the Jewish community in the military, Kahan’s focus has shifted towards reaching out and facilitating the opportunity for others to worship in their own way.
“When I was in civilian ministry, people would come to the synagogue to worship and celebrate,” Kahan said. “As a military chaplain I now have the opportunity to go out to them. Whether it’s by moving to different duty stations or by deploying and going overseas, it’s about giving the Airmen what they need.”
One of the needs Kahan sees in the military is a sense of belonging and community. Hanukkah is a family-orientated holiday but Kahan understands serving in the military means Airmen typically don’t get to be with their families for the holidays.
“My goal for them is they should feel like this is their family lighting the menorah,” Kahan said. “They should feel that connection to family. They shouldn’t feel alone or left out, even if they don’t have their blood family here they should know they have a family at the Chapel that’s welcomed them in to celebrate with fresh latkes [potato pancakes] and menorahs for them to light.”
Kahan believes it’s important for Airmen of all religious backgrounds to celebrate the traditions of their faith.
“Unity does not mean uniformity,” Kahan said. “Everyone’s religion, faith and traditions are unique and everyone should have the right and ability to celebrate their holidays as it relates to them.”
Kahan also encouraged Airmen to celebrate and carry on the traditions of their faith in order to stay connected with their roots.
“People tried to destroy us and our faith, but we were able to withstand and overcome that challenge and it’s amazing,” Kahan said. “When you’re performing the commandment [of lighting the menorah], the age-old custom and tradition that speaks to who we are, you’re tapping into that spiritual persona of triumphing over our challenges and overcoming our fears. Only then can we become a beacon of light in the darkness.”