Voices from the field

A 'Piece' About Chanukkah

By Yehudit Werchow

“We kindle these lights to commemorate the miracles and the wonders”

הנרות הללו אנו מדליקין על הניסים והנפלאות

Each element of Chanukkah – from the blessing over the candles, to placing the chanukkiah (menorah) by the window so that it can be seen from the outside – expresses our recognition and celebration of the miracles and wonders in the history and present times of our people, whatever our interpretations of those miracles are. I hope that this year, our candles will shine longer, celebrating the quiet that came after the storms.

This will be my fourth Chanukkah as an Israeli Shlicha (emissary) in North America. After three years of building relationships, learning, and working with inspiring individuals, communities, and organizations, I feel that this year, the candles in my chanukkiah will represent the stories of the wonders I’ve experienced during my shlichut (my time as an emissary) and also serve as reminders of the work that lie ahead.

“Poem on Bliss” by Roni Someck:

We are placed upon a wedding cake    

like two dolls, bride and groom.

When the knife strikes, 

              We’ll try to stay on the same piece.

אנחנו מונחים על העוגה

כמו בובות חתן כלה

גם אם תבוא הסכין

ננסה להשאר באותה הפרוסה

The Israeli poet Roni Someck describes in a vivid way the first miracle I wish to celebrate. We might not agree about the roles we play: who is the groom and who is the bride? But the mere fact that we are still standing together on what seems, at times, like a very thin piece of cake, feels like a miracle worth celebrating.

Yet while we play with this metaphor, and perhaps even argue about the roles, the knife strikes again - each swing scary and painful. Our words and actions are simultaneously the knife and the piece of cake. This is the irony of our people: We know how to connect and support each other, and we experience the blessings of these mifgashim (encounters) and how they strengthen Am Yisrael. However, unfortunately, there are times when we choose to distance ourselves from Klal Israel (the community of Israel), and alienate others from it as well. In moments like these, we become the knife. Torah warns us from the severe consequences of such actions:

"(וְכָשְׁלוּ אִישׁ בְּאָחִיו כְּמִפְּנֵי חֶרֶב וְרֹדֵף אָיִן וְלֹא תִהְיֶה לָכֶם תְּקוּמָה לִפְנֵי אֹיְבֵיכֶם: (ויקרא כו,לז."

“With no one pursuing, they shall stumble over one another as before the sword. You shall not be able to stand your ground before your enemies” (Leviticus 26:37)

Yehudah Amichai teaches us about the art of connecting in his poem “Tourists,” describing a group of Jews visiting Israel:

Redemption will come only if their guide tells them, "You see that arch from the Roman period? It's not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who's bought fruit and vegetables for his family.

We are all tourists at some point in our lives, but we should never be tourists in Judaism, Israel, or with each other. My shlichut has been blessed with opportunities for creating personalized journeys with my friends, colleagues, and students in Israel and with Judaism. Rabbinic scholars taught us that Torah should always be studied in chevruta (friendships), with a partner, and preferably with a partner that will respect and challenge us. Maimonides teaches us that we should always seek to build friendships with people who will challenge us while leading to reciprocal growth, enrichment, and, most importantly, commitment to contribute together to better the world. Chanukkah is a time to celebrate our physical and spiritual resilience as a people, and it is also a time to remember and celebrate the wonders we generate as a people. May we be inspired to enrich our lives with opportunities to experience Israel and Judaism with friends and family; to open our hearts and homes and make sure that we are never tourists in Israel, in Judaism, or with each other.