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A Chanukah Greeting: “Be the Shamash”

Posted by Liza Baron on December 23, 2019

As we celebrate the 8 nights of Chanukah, also known as the Festival of Lights, we usually like to consider the meaning of this holiday. There are a lot of different Chanukah stories out there, and many interpretations of why we celebrate for eight days. One thing we believe is that Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Syrian Greeks were defeated. When only enough oil was found after the destruction, expected to last for one day, a miracle occurred and this oil created light that lasted for eight days. That the oil lasted is truly a miracle, burning that slowly to last for that long…it feels like I change the modern day light bulb in my bedroom more often!

What I like about focusing on the miracle of the oil lasting is that it has a connection to light. Light is so important. In the winter we have less of it and the days feel shorter without nearly enough time to pack it all in. So we rush to get home before it gets too dark out. In the summer we have much more of it and the days linger on with lots of time spent soaking up the rays the sun; not as much rushing either perhaps. I find the light during Chanukah invaluable – an opportunity to absorb the brightness in my home, in my children, even in my own soul. Tonight many of you will joyfully light a Chanukiyah (the eight-branched candelabra commonly referred to as a menorah). It’s said that the lights grow in strength during the eight days of Chanukah, with the addition of one candle each night. Maybe you’ll sing blessings, eat sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and latkes (potato pancakes), and play a little game of dreidel (the four-sided spinning top).

As you prepare to celebrate Chanukah or Christmas or Kwanzaa or any holiday you observe this season, I hope you’ll find some time this week to read an article written by former political speechwriter, Sarah Hurwitz. She provoked a conversation between my eight year old and me about social justice, and she happens to identify eight Jewish social justice values that feel fitting as we welcome the eight nights of Chanukah. Her take on our need to repair the world, show kindness to others, appreciate uniqueness in every person, and to love the stranger resonates so strongly with our core values in our Early Childhood Development Center.

One final note on Chanukah- the candle we use to light the other candles is called the shamash, or the helper candle. I am fond of the quote I once read by Rabbi David Wolpe who said,

“The Shamash lights the other candles. Be the Shamash.”

Here’s to being the shamash and to raising future helpers together.

Wishing you warmth and light, today and all winter long, from our ECDC family to yours,

Liza Baron is JCC Director, Early Childhood Development

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