Chag Chanukah Sameach
Chanukah is known as the Festival of Lights, perfectly placed to brighten the darkest time of the solar year and the lunar cycle. This year, we Jews are contending with a different kind of darkness and, my goodness, if we ever needed some light, it’s now!
Ecclesiastes tells us that אין כל חדש תחת השמש — there is nothing new under the sun — and that seems to be more true now than ever. Throughout Jewish history, we have had to contend with those who sought to destroy us. Whether through military attack, forced exile, outlawing of religious practice, forced conversion, destruction of property, brutality or murder, the Ancient Egyptians, Amelekites, Philistines, Babylonians, Persians, Assyrians, Romans, Crusaders, Spanish Inquisitors, Cossacks, Nazis, Arab armies, and Soviets all did their best to wipe our people out. Yet, in every instance we persevered, and in most cases have outlived those who were so sure they would eliminate us.
Yet, here we are again as a people — in 2023 — contending with the brutality of Hamas, the most recent edition of history’s onslaught against the Jews. In Israel, a war is being waged to defeat this terrible enemy, while contending with simultaneous threats not only from Hamas, but also from the Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Iran and Yemen. And here in the West, we find ourselves confronting the emergence of a new wave of antisemitism which, like those before it, defies logic, common sense and human decency.
It is into this terrible reality that our Chanukah holiday now arrives. It seems utterly incongruous! How are we to celebrate, when our people have been murdered brutally, taken hostage, and are fighting and dying on the front lines? How can we light the candles, sing the songs, spin the dreidels, eat latkes and sufganiyot, and hand out gelt when our hearts are so heavy?
One possible answer can come from the Chanukiah itself. According to tradition, we don’t dive fully into the holiday by lighting all of the candles right away. Instead, we start with just one candle, dipping our toe, as it were, into the atmosphere of the holiday. Then, as the days go by, we light additional candles, slowly filling the Chanukiah in a gradual crescendo of light and joy.
So as hard as it may seem to get in the spirit of the holiday, perhaps we can take our cue from that first candle. Let’s take it slowly, light one candle, chant the blessings, and allow that glow to reach into our souls. Maybe if we take it one day at a time, each extra candle will coax out another song or game of dreidel, and a gradual brightening of our spirits.
Of course, as a school community, we are so very fortunate to have other sources of light in our world — our precious children. With you, Bialik’s parents, we work together to pass along the Jewish rituals, values and traditions that are so central to who we are as individuals and as a people. And our collective hope is that this Jewish identity will enable our generations, like those before us, to persevere and thrive. This has worked many times in the past; we have to believe it will succeed again now.
May the Chanukiah and your children bring you much light and joy, now and far into the future.
!חג אורים שמח