Shining your light
"In the window you can see the glow of the menorah on newly fallen snow," goes the children's song. One of the core mitzvot of Hanukkah is to "publicize the miracle" (in Aramaic, pirsumay nisa) - hence lighting the candles near a front window, where passersby can see them. What does publicizing the miracle mean for us?
In December of 2003, during my AVODAH year, I spent Hanukkah in Chile. On Christmas eve, my partner and I went to a party in the courtyard of the hostel where we were staying, complete with warm skies, sparkling lights, and a delicious punch made from an unfamiliar fruit. Earlier, when we had asked the hostel owner how she would feel if we added some Hanukkah traditions to the Christmas party, she had been enthusiastic. Before we lit the Hanukkiah, we invited over an Israeli woman who had lit candles with us the night before. Then we figured, as long as we're at it, we might as well see if anyone else would like to join us.
To my surprise, every single person in the courtyard huddled around for the candlelighting. I explained the concept of Hanukkah in English, my partner translated into Spanish, and then we lit the candles and sang the blessings. In that moment, bright faces focused inward, and people from Australia, France, Canada, Chile, England all stood hushed in the candlelight. Afterwards, several people asked questions and gushed about how moving they had found this moment to be.
We certainly hadn't set out to evangelize or even to publicize the miracle, per se. But just by being in the place we were, doing the thing we wanted to do, we ended up introducing many people to Hanukkah and Jewish tradition for their first time - and feeling more connected to the strangers around us than we had ever expected. (Of course we were fortunate to be met so warmly in this public affirmation of our traditions; others at times have faced hostility and skepticism.)
Ki va orech, kumi ori. For your light has come, rise and shine, we sing at Kabbalat Shabbat. In social justice work, it's easy to get caught up with a litany of tasks and hurdles. But let's not forget how powerful it can be when we simply put our true selves out there; in taking that risk, we build community and inspire others to do the same.
Let's remember to let our light shine through. And let's see what unexpected results may come.