Light the Candles and Be Inspired to Light Up the World

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If Tisha B’av or Yom HaShoah represent days that commemorate dying al Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s name, Chanuka is the holiday that celebrates living al Kiddush Hashem. Overcoming enormous pressure and persecution, the Maccabees refused to abandon their Torah way of life and to assimilate into the culture and religion that surrounded them. While facing persecution and oppression, they not only maintained their values, practice, and identity, but with great courage and resolve, they fought a much greater force both in number and strength, and ultimately triumphed in protecting our right to continue to live al Kiddush Hashem until today.


Each night that we light the menorah and seek to literally and figuratively illuminate the world and dispel the darkness, we follow in the Maccabees’ footsteps in making a Kiddush Hashem. As we gaze at the Chanuka lights, we are to remember that our mission and mandate as a people and as a community is to be a light unto the nations.


Last Shabbos, we had the privilege of celebrating Tani Gross’s bar mitzvah. Tani’s non-Jewish tennis instructor, Eon, was invited to be part of this major milestone in Tani’s life and he gladly accepted. He was nervous about attending a Synagogue and anxious about how he and his wife would feel. This week, he sent me the following letter describing the experience:


I have to be honest and tell you that I was really nervous about going to a place I have heard so much about. But I had no idea what to expect. Will I be treated as an outsider? Will people look at me and know that I don’t belong? Also what do I wear? Where do I sit? What does Jillian do? What if I do something wrong? As you can see I had lots of question and concerns. Luckily I had a few club members and friends help me out.


Once inside Gary [Krasna] showed me where to go, what to read, and was my personal guide. Not once throughout the service did I feel like I didn’t belong. I was out of my element, and a little lost most of the time. But I can honestly say that I was treated like family. Rabbi Goldberg even worked his way over to me before his sermon and wanted to make sure I was okay. And what a fitting sermon it was. The Rabbi talked about Joseph and how his brothers treated him. They hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. Rabbi Goldberg talked about how we treat people. Just because someone thinks different, looks different or in my case believes in something different, doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. One day our goal should be to even love that person.


Sunday was the big party and I felt much more comfortable by now. There was dancing and food, and more dancing and more food. Once again as the only two people at the party that were outsiders, you would never know it… So we ate, we danced, we laughed and never felt like anyone was judging us. It was a great night. I am so fortunate and blessed to have been part of Tani’s special day.


As I sit here now reflecting on my busy weekend I can’t help but feel a little sad that it’s all over. What I saw this weekend wasn’t just a Bar Mitzvah but rather a strong and loving community. It was a feeling of belonging to something that I really don’t. It showed me that the Rabbi was right. We may be different but doesn’t mean we can’t get along and can’t build better friendships. As Christians and Jews we believe in the same God; we are all God’s children and should treat each other in such a way. I would like Rabbi Goldberg to know that his congregation really does “value diversity and celebrate unity.”


Rav Wolbe explains that when the Chashmonaim risked their lives to fight a war for the sake of Hashem, they were, in effect, endeavoring to "make His Name great and holy in the world" (Al Hanissim).


Please God, we will never be challenged to have to fight an actual war to make His Name great, but we will face opportunities each day from the way we welcome the “outsider” to shul, to the way we interact at work, the supermarket or the gym.


May the lights of Chanuka inspire us to make His Name great and to light up the world with our actions, each and every day.