Hanukkah and Soviet Jewry


Hanukkah is a time to celebrate miracles. Like the Jews in the days of the Maccabees, the Jews in the Soviet Union were also prohibited from studying Torah and practicing their Judaism. In this lesson, we look at the theme of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, as a metaphor of hope in the face of darkness.

Learning Objectives

Explore the themes of hope and inspiration that are embedded in the holiday of Hanukkah.

Duration: 45 minutes 



1. Read the text: Read the text, written by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks for the OU, found on the source sheet. 

2. Guided Discussion: After you have read the source sheet, discuss the following questions related to the text and the holiday of Hanukkah.

  • How was life for Jews under Alexander the Great similar to life for Soviet Jews?
  • What do we learn from the Maccabees?
  • Why did the Maccabees bother to search for oil? What do we learn from this?
  • What has survived from the suffering of Jews in the FSU? Why did Soviet Jews begin to seek a new life in Israel in 1967?
  • According to Rabbi Sacks, how did Gorbechev become part of the Hanukkah story? Do you agree?
  • What is the Jewish response to a tragedy, according to our history?
  • How is the tradition of lighting candles a logical response to remembering a tragedy
  • Why do Shabbat candles take priority over Hanukkah candles?
  • Why did some communities want to stop celebrating Hanukkah?
  • How are the words in Hatikvah a reflection of the fact that we still celebrate Hanukkah, Pesach, Yom HaShoah, etc?
  • Why do some people light Hanukkah candles outside?
    How does the way in which we light Hanukkah candles inspire us to make the world better?

3. Conclusion: Listen to the Peter, Paul and Mary sing a famous Hanukkah song that you can hear here:

  • How do the words relate to the Hanukkah story?
  • How do they speak to the experience of Soviet Jews?

Download Lesson

Click here to download the full lesson pack in .zip format.

4. Extension

Younger Students: students can decorate the blessings sheet and create notecards with inspirational thoughts to share for each night of Hanukkah.

Older Students: students can research and come up with their own list of Hanukkah themed inspiration to share at candle lighting.

Download Lesson

Click here to download the full lesson pack in .zip format.

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