The Power of The Chanukah Lights
The joyous holiday of Chanukah celebrates the miraculous victory by a small band of Jews (Maccabees) over the entire Syrian-Greek armies. Strangely though, we don’t really celebrate the military victory, but rather the finding of untainted olive oil that was used to light the Menorah in the Temple. A possible reason for this focus is that while one could always rationalize the victory and take credit for it, the miracle of the oil could only be credited to G-d.
As we all know, it was only enough to last for one night, but miraculously lasted for eight days, until a new shipment could be produced that would allow the Menorah to remain lit continuously. We celebrate the spiritual dimension of Judaism, spreading the increasing light of Torah, as is demonstrated as we increase a candle every night for eight nights. It can be seen as a symbol of hope, the proverbial “light at the end of a tunnel.”
We are instructed to celebrate this holiday in a public manner so as to let people experience the victory of light over dark, good over evil. This is especially important since October 7th, when our world was rocked by the savage murders, violence, and kidnappings in Israel and the onslaught of antisemitism that has grown astronomically in the world at large. We have not experienced such an existential threat since the Holocaust! Yet we go on and get ready to bring light into the world as we light our menorahs.
In many places, South Bend included, a large menorah will be lit in the public square. Yet, in a small city in Canada – Moncton, New Brunswick – where only 160 Jews live, the mayor has decided, after 20 years of lighting the menorah in the City Hall, this year it will not happen due to the law of separation of Church and State, although the annual Christmas tree and manger scene, angels and other Christmas trappings, will all remain. While the Jewish community registered their complaint that they did not feel welcome as a result of this double standard, the mayor and her cabinet would not relent. I begin to wonder how long it will take before we are forbidden to openly share our religion here in the USA.
Since the Hamas massacre, we have seen increased antisemitism on our campuses, such as students chanting “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free,” (otherwise known as the call for Israel’s total destruction) as well as a call to kill every Jew wherever you find them. Many Jews have started to wonder where all of this is coming from and have started to explore what so many are trying to extinguish. That’s where the Federation can be very helpful.
Baruch Hashem, we have the 613 mitzvot (commandments) which allow us to connect with the Ineffable in a multitude of ways. The commandments include laws of charity, business law, laws of interpersonal relationships, how to speak, eat, etc. There is something that can appeal and talk to everybody. Use the Federation to keep the fire burning!
If you want to help educate people about us, get involved with the Community Relations Council (CRC). The CRC goes into schools and churches and educates about the Holocaust, Israel, etc. They bring in speakers to let us know what is happening locally and around the world.
If you have young children, PJ Library is the address to check out. Every month, free books on Jewish subjects that are kid-friendly and age-appropriate are sent to your home, so that you can learn at your leisure with your kids. Additionally, there are programs that are run at the Federation specifically for this age group.
Our Shaliach program brings Israel into our backyard. Omer Karavani is our shaliach and runs SaBaBaH as well as other programs. He brings Israel alive and gives his personal perspective on what’s really going on.
If you want to help local Jews, Jewish Family Services is the place to go. If someone needs to talk, hits a bump in the financial road, or has anxiety about what’s going on, they need only contact me. In addition, if I can’t help, we have partners who are willing to step in. Mental health professionals as well as educational coaches have reached out to me asking if they can be of any service.
We also offer classes on Jewish history, thought, etc. and are willing to expand our offerings if there is interest. Check out our website, TheJewishFed.org and see what is offered. If you want something else, let us know.
As I wrote last month, what Hamas as well as all of our enemies have shown, is that they don’t distinguish between Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, unaffiliated, etc. We are all just one body to them, namely Jews. Let’s take their lesson to heart and continue to come together like never before! May our Chanukah lights continue to spread light into the world.
Finally, I would like to publicly thank Mike Krueger for his eight years of dedicated service to JFS as one of our main drivers. Mike was very quick to answer the call when I was trying to arrange rides for our clients and was always a pleasure to work with. As of December 31st, he has stated that he would like to retire. Mike will be sorely missed!
If anybody was thinking of volunteering as a driver, now is the time to apply. Please contact me ASAP and we can get the ball rolling. At this point, we have a light load, maybe three rides a month.
Have a happy and healthy Chanukah.
Rabbi Fred Nebel
Director of Jewish Family Services