I had a basically secular upbringing as a child growing up in Santa Monica, and later Coos Bay. I have defined myself as an atheist since about age nine, which is when I began to notice that the beliefs of my classmates on the subject of a supreme being did not coincide with my own.
We played spin the dreidle (whose four faces form the acronym for ‘A great miracle happened here’). We ate latkes and lots of other luscious oily treats (symbolizing the one-day supply of temple oil that miraculously burned for eight days). And we each got a handful of foil-wrapped chocolate coins – Hanukkah gelt (symbolizing the national coins that the Hasmoneans minted to celebrate their freedom after the revolt).
But the most memorable part for me was the telling of the story of Hanukkah each year, with all of the children sitting cross-legged on the floor while one of the adults recounted the saga of how a small rebel army – the Maccabees – fought off a much larger and better equipped army and retook their temple.
The message of this story was always very clear to me: It does not matter how large or powerful your adversary is, how insurmountable the challenges confronting you are, or how impossible your victory may appear. If you are on the right path and do not waver in your belief in yourself, you will prevail.
This message has shaped my life. I carry it with me always. I live by it. My childhood exposure to the story of Hanukkah over and over, and my sense that this story was part of my own personal identity and history, has much to do with the strength and independence and self-determination that people witness in me today, decades later.
I would like to thank Ned and Clara Feldman for offering their home year after year for this event. (The couple met in the 1940s when Ned, as a US soldier, liberated the concentration camp Clara was in.)
And I would like to thank my father, Philip Abraham Goldberg, and his/my ancestors for each surviving for as long as they did so that I could come into the world and hear this story.