Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season, and our co-op association celebrates by burning a candle this time of year. (I’m glad my co-op neighbors were such good cooks!) This year, the reddest candle is in our hearts and minds. Long year, cruel winter, and sleepless nights. Now, we are blessed to light a candle at our tree. On December 7, when we take part in the Menorah Lighting, we will join millions of Jewish families across the country as they partake in a tradition that has existed in the neighborhood for thousands of years. It is time to celebrate together.
Our tradition as a neighborhood is similar to that of many Jewish communities. How are we to be so different? Some places seem to us like a crime scene with all the strange equipment (tech toys, unending TV, cutting-edge music), unique comforts, and seemingly endless food trucks. Yet, in one spot, there are meaningful rituals, a tradition that dates back more than 2,000 years.
Amen, or else.
This year, while I joined my neighbors for the Menorah Lighting (as they always do, no matter the weather or other plans), we did not participate in the strange act of lighting another small candle (just like the ones we burned all summer long). After all, the scene in the crowded living room reminded me more of the checkout line at the mall than of the festive season. It took me a few minutes to figure out that this must be the reason we left the switch turned off. By the time I reached that absurd level of connection with my neighbor and thought to turn on the lights and immediately, the end of the world (as the story goes) came upon us.
However, the Menorah isn’t a magic orgy of lights. This one holiday light is a powerful symbol of celebration. It reminds us of our heavenly father that we called on to make our night somehow more pleasant. He did so, offering the Three Wise Men a tiny hand made, candle that represents the miracle of the first night of Hanukkah. Yet, with the mummified candle, our eternal source, this little story about magic and miracles goes on. The miracle did not end when the menorah was given to the religious family; the everlasting lesson was passed on to the next generation.
This is not just a story about sharing a meal with people you love, it is also a story about all the little gifts that we get from an incredible world and in this world, where we all learn from a single light shining on the morning sun, but in a totally different way. At the traditional lighting this year, just as I am toasting my neighbor and hearing his prayers to thank the High Priest for the blessings of this year, he adds, “Just as Hanukkah ends the way it began, we remember our own miracle and gratitude to our creator.” It might sound cheesy and simple, but it is something we can all take to heart and take with us in this season.
Just like every other holiday, it all comes down to gratitude and appreciation for our blessings, this one in particular. So, instead of turning the lights on, turn your life on and experience the celebration of this holiday with your neighbors, your children, and your family.