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  • At The Tip of The Quill

The Resilience of Hanukkah Lights in the Midst of Dark Times

Adapted from a lay-led service given on the second night of Hanukkah, 2023


"Composing my thoughts to share with you this Shabbat has been an interesting process. I’ve gone from enthusiastic with loads of fun ideas to staring at a blank page wondering what I could say that wasn’t trite. I’ve had times where thoughts came easy to write and other times where I was too physically sick to continue. 

This wild rollercoaster of emotions is, I think, a microcosm of the wild ride of emotions most of us in the Jewish community have probably felt since October 7th - a day which, for me at least, has now become as easily identifiable in meaning as September 11th.

I didn’t know back on October 8th when [we] first elected to lead services today how much life would shift for all of us because of the events during that same 24-hour period. 

And now, here we are, on the second night of Hanukkah, exactly two months later, still processing everything that has happened in only the past 60-odd days: We’ve buried loved ones, we’ve celebrated weddings and bat/bar mitzvahs, we’ve welcomed new babies, and mourned over those innocents who are missing and/or still in captivity. 

I struggled this week to kick off the first night of Hanukkah with my family under the looming shadow of depression which has wrapped its oppressive tendrils around the edges of my soul and threatened to complete its invasion to steal away all of my joy." 

"How could we possibly celebrate a festival of lights when times feel dark? How can we come together for a holiday when so many people continue to die every day? While death and war happen in many parts of the world nearly every day, because this time around it is our community, our people, our loved ones it feels much more real and tangible to me. 

I struggled to answer the question, “How can I light-heartedly celebrate Hanukkah, yet present a meaningful message to my Synagogue, while at the same time also honoring the sacred, more somber, space so many of us find ourselves in these days?” 

I was recently reminded that, yes, Hanukkah is a festival of lights, and yes, we do celebrate the symbolism of light against dark this week; however, if we take a closer look, we’re reminded Hanukkah stems from the Hebrew word for dedication. 

Dedication has two common definitions in English: 

  1. An action, such as ‘his new book was dedicated to his wife’, and

  2. A quality, such as being committed to a task or purpose. 

In Jewish tradition, dedication has also come to include the concept of resilience. As in, we don’t give up on the tasks or purposes to which we commit ourselves, even when we face opposition. As such, we are known as a resilient people.

What is resilience?

Resilience is the capacity to withstand or to recover unexpectedly quickly from difficulties. It’s also the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape.  As none of us are rubber balls, we’ll go with the first definition tonight. 🙂

Resilience means being able to adapt to life’s misfortunes and setbacks. When something goes wrong, do you tend to bounce back or fall apart?  One of my favorite jokes goes, “I don’t have ducks. They’re certainly not in a row. I have squirrels and they’re lost at a rave.” 

Did you know you can cultivate inner resilience? 

The Mayo Clinic published a great article with tips on how to improve your resilience. Their recommendations include:

Getting Connected - with strong, positive relationships with people who accept and support you in the bad times, not just the good.

Make the day meaningful - do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment or purpose to the day or set a meaningful goal you’re excited to work toward. It doesn’t have to be large.

Learn from experience - Remember how we’ve coped with hardships in the past. As a frequently passed-around meme reminds us, “You currently have a 100% track record of getting through yesterday.” 

Take care of yourself. Tend to your own needs and feelings. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t have enough of ourselves to give to other people.

Be Proactive. Don’t ignore your problems. Figure out what needs to be done, make a plan, and take action. Although it can take time to recover from a major setback, traumatic event, or loss, remember - we can still take positive action, even small steps, like taking a shower, sitting out in the sun for five minutes, taking a one-minute walk, or tossing/giving/putting away one item.

And, of course, seek professional advice if you’re feeling like your head is slipping under the water you’re treading. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out to a rabbi, a doctor, a counselor, or a therapist for your mental health. Mental Health Help is the same as getting your eyes checked by an eye doctor and buying glasses if you need help with your vision.

Conveniently enough, we’re practicing cultivating resilience right now, as we dedicate ourselves to Shabbat and as we celebrate Hanukkah. And THAT is why we need to be here today, celebrating the defiant act that is shining light against the dark.

  1. We’re connecting here on Zoom, with our families, with our friends, with our community.

  2. We’ve marked the day as meaningful with the lights of Shabbat and the second night of Hanukkah, with our prayers, and with our songs.

  3. We remember the experiences of our people throughout many times of dark history. Where some took up arms as a form of resistance, we now join the ranks of many who demonstrated their resistance by creating opportunities to celebrate Jewish holidays and traditions regardless of the circumstances in their lives, even if they had to celebrate in secret. 

  4. And we’re being proactive: some have gone to marches and rallies, others have written to government officials, others have stood beside friends and loved ones in need, some have sit shiva, others have chosen to celebrate life’s milestones even if they didn’t feel like it at the moment, and

  5. We’ve all come together tonight as a community.

All in all, I’ve concluded a festival named ‘dedication’ is exactly the sort of holiday we need right now. As we reflect on this year’s Hanukkah lights, let us dedicate ourselves once more to our tradition of Tikkun olam - healing the world. We may not be able to repair the world all at once. We may not be able to restore peace in Israel today or even this year, but what we can do is practice resilience and dedicate our lives to peace right here at home. Perhaps, through our dedication to peace, our light will be able to combine with other’s lights, slowly but surely, until there is no darkness left on the globe.

Shabbat Shalom and may you have a very meaningful Hanukkah."

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