As I write these words I am sitting by the window, looking at the beautiful fall weather. The fall in Jerusalem is short and mostly grey - and in a blink of an eye we move from warm days to the chill of winter. But here, in Fairfax, the transition of the fall brings gradual shifts in weather, and the beauty of nature that says - winter is almost here. In Israel, the best way to know that winter is almost here is when you see Sufganiyot (donuts) in the bakeries and cafes (which just like the holiday decorations here, seem to arrive earlier and earlier each year). I watch the tall Fairfax trees swaying in the wind as the colorful leaves flare in yellow, orange and red. As the sun slowly goes down, I can only see the flickering colors of the leaves, and remaining rays of the sun through the branches. And quickly enough it is dark, night has fallen, and the flame-like leaves are gone.
In Jerusalem, nightfall means “light shining” when it comes to Chanukkah. You can see the light from the Chanukkiyot in the windows, and in some neighborhoods, the streets are full of Chanukkiyot in glass cases, all displayed outside. All of this fills the streets with the spirit of the holiday – a holiday of light. There is a good reason that Chanukkah takes place this time of the year. Yes, I know, it is because of the date in which it takes place, but there’s more to it.
Channukah is a holiday of light over darkness, faith and belief that led people to stand together. It is a holiday where even in the darkest moments of despair, there’s always a glimmer of hope. The fire represents not only light and warmth, which are necessary on cold winter nights, but also of strength and hope, which are always essential. All the Chanukkiyot we see in the windows, in doorways and throughout our community, are there not just to say “Happy Channukah”, they are there to say, “We are here, together.” In ancient times, tribes would gather around the fire pit to take in the light, just like our community gathers around the Chanukkiya. They bring light, hope, and strength —unifying us for the holiday as one commUNITY.
We live in a time where it can be challenging to find the hope and bright light in some of our communities, as well as in Israel. Local events in the U.S have created divisions in the nation, and the events of May 2021 in Israel have had a tremendous impact on Israeli society and impacted the Jewish community dramatically with Anti-Semitic events. This division within the Jewish community has brought up a lot of questions about our sense of belonging and support for Israel.
The light seems to be flickering in the window, as the sun is going down. Will we find candles on the other side, or will it be darkness? I see the candles, lighting and brightening our community. I see it in the faces of those who choose to get up and help others. I see it in the faces of those who reach out to their friends. I see it in the effort of the congregations to talk about the dividing issues, and not shy away from them.
On a cold night at the beginning of November, a group of mothers from our community met together at an event hosted by two wonderful women who were a part of the Pozez JCC cohort that went on the “Momentum” trip to Israel two years ago. We sat in a backyard around a fire pit (ring a bell?) and discussed our relationships with Israel. Each one talked about how hard it is to talk about Israel these days, how it affects being a part of the Jewish community, and mostly — how to talk about Israel with our children. How to provide them with the support to talk about Israel in light of all that is surrounding them in the news, social media, on campuses, etc. This conversation was a big light. This conversation brought us back to the Jewish community, the connection to and the place of Israel in it, to the homes of each one of the participants.
Now, more than ever, it is important to bring light into each and every household. Do this by caring for others and providing a feeling of community, a sense of belonging and connecting with one another. Be tolerant and use education to have open and honest discussions. Bring light, be the light. The Chanukkiya in every home is not only a symbol of what happened centuries ago in a faraway land. It is a symbol of today, of belonging together with other households that light candles each night, it is a connection to Jewish people all over the world, it is a statement in our homes that we choose to be a part of a bigger commUNITY.
Try one thing this Chanukkah — when you light candles, ask those around you what symbolizes light in their life, and how it can be increased, together.