Hanukkah is such a special time of year. It is a reminder of so much, and although as a Muslim it is not my holiday to celebrate, it is a special 8 days that I hold dear to my heart. For me, the most powerful part of the Hanukkah story is the idea that with righteousness, courage and faith, something that seems small and powerless can actually become heroic and transcendent. Like the Maccabees, a small army that defeated a large empire, or the small vile of oil that somehow miraculously lit the Jewish Temple for those 8 nights.
I have certainly felt small before in my life. As a survivor of the Khojaly massacre, once left by the side of the road for dead, I remember a tragic time in my life when I felt as small and vulnerable as one could ever feel. Yet over time, with immense support and kindness from so many around me and from my own country, I began to feel strong again, and eventually strong enough to stand up and fight against the occupation of my country and against criminal warfare taking place across the world. In my own small way, I became like a Maccabee soldier, filled with the miraculous light of faith and courage.
Hanukkah is celebrated across the nation here in Azerbaijan, from the bustling streets of our capital city Baku to the all-Jewish Red Village in the Quba region, and the entire nation, made of Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Baha’is, Hare Krishnas and others, enjoy the tradition and festivities that come along with the holiday. Here in Azerbaijan we understand the legacy of Hanukkah as it pertains to Jewish history and also to the Jewish narrative today – how Jews around the world have miraculously transcended the tragedies of the 20th century, and so many centuries before, and continue to flourish, celebrate, and live freely in the world.
A holiday distinguished by lights, Hanukkah is in many ways a story about creating life (light) in a world of darkness (death), and I think that is one of the most powerful messages of the holiday, and one that I can relate to most intimately. And this applies beyond me, a survivor and spokeswoman for survivors, but also to my brothers and sisters across Azerbaijan, a country that aims to shine a great light out unto the world, to illuminate the belief and practice of interreligious and multicultural tolerance, harmony and peace, which we hold so dear to our hearts and which is inseparable from our national character. We are also a country that has been under siege for many years now, by foreign invaders who hope to wipe us out, to erase our history, culture and traditions.
For these and so many other reasons, I love this holiday and the inspiration it provides, in a time when we all need as much inspiration as possible. It reminds me to celebrate legacy, to remember the champions and heroes that have fought tirelessly for my freedoms and safety. It reminds me of the courage and strength within me and it empowers me to continue fighting for justice and for my homeland and for many lives lost – so many that will not light holiday candles this year because they were taken too soon from the world. In their memory I celebrate, and in the spirit of transcendence and miracles, I join my Jewish friends and neighbors in lighting the Menorah, enjoying latkes, sufganiyot and listening to the beautiful Hanukkah music. More than anything, I join you in this festival of lights and renew my commitment to continue doing all I can to bring light into the world.