Members of the Chabad Cayman Jewish Community will gather Tuesday evening at the Marriott Beach Resort to celebrate the last night of Chanukah, the annual eight-day “festival of lights.”
The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication”; the holiday commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which the Maccabees reclaimed from Greek occupiers who were persecuting Jewish people for their faith. As the story goes, they cleared idols and built a new altar and menorah, but had only enough sacred oil to last one day. Miraculously, it continued to burn for eight days.
The holiday is celebrated by the estimated 500 Jewish people living permanently on island – including retirees, young professionals and families – but it has a message for the rest of Cayman, as well. It is a story about pushing back against pressure to abandon your beliefs and customs; standing up for what is right and being proud of who you are. It is about shining your light for all the world to see. It is one of many winter holidays around the world that celebrate the triumph of light over darkness, celebrating renewal and hope.
On Thursday’s Winter Solstice (the start of winter and the shortest day for most of the Northern Hemisphere), we will experience only 11 hours of daylight compared with summer’s peak of 13 hours. Cayman’s Scandinavian expatriates (whose home countries have about six hours of daylight on Winter Solstice) may laugh at the idea of celebrating the “deep midwinter” here in Cayman – which, admittedly, is not that deep. Sunscreen is still advisable.
On Christmas Eve, congregants will flock to churches to celebrate the birth of Jesus – yet another story of light, symbolized by the Star of Bethlehem.
During this season of illumination, we encourage residents – of all faiths, backgrounds and nationalities – to stop and reflect on the marvel of modern-day Cayman’s diversity. Our small population of just over 63,000 people includes representatives from nearly half of the countries in the world. People hailing from more than 110 different countries have chosen to make Cayman home – at least for a while.
They come from places as near as Jamaica and as far as the Philippines and Bangladesh. They may be joined by scores of fellow countrymen, or they may comprise a handful from their homeland – or perhaps constitute a delegation of one. Together, they bring to Cayman a multitude of languages and traditions, contributing distinct threads to a rich and harmonious tapestry.
Cayman’s population boom has not been free of complications. Some longtime residents and multigenerational Caymanians worry that excessive growth will smother what makes our country special. They fear the loss of traditions that are indigenous to Cayman.
But one does not need to come from a place to appreciate it and adopt its customs. Likewise, there’s nothing (except xenophobia) that prevents individuals in the native-born population to enjoy the assimilation of new practices that, over time, themselves become “local traditions.”
Cayman has been given a great gift in the diversity of its population. We have much to learn and much to share. (Pass the eggnog – British; sorrel – Caribbean; and mulled wine – Roman, please …)
It is both possible and desirable to appreciate our differences while celebrating our commonalities.
As the days grow incrementally longer, so, too, should our gratitude for our neighbors.