Religious Life

The Light of Hope – A Weekly Letter From Rabbi Davis – December 7, 2018

Shalom Chaverim,

Our news cycle has moved on, but I continue to think of the tragic wildfires that recently engulfed California. Even as I recall images of people fleeing the flames, even as I think of those who perished, one image sticks in my mind. It is charred hills of the Jewish summer camp, Hess Kramer.

While no one was hurt, most of the camp’s buildings were destroyed. But one thing remained unscathed- a large menorah that overlooks the valley below. Erected on a prominent hillside as a display of Jewish pride, today it is a symbol of our survival. It says, neither man nor nature can dim our light.

Other nations have come and gone. The Greeks, the Romans, the Babylonians. They tried to destroy us and have long since perished. But the Jew remains. Other natural disasters- floods, fires, earthquakes etc.- have befallen us. But we have persisted.

More than other holidays, Chanukah is the celebration of Jewish survival. It marks the tenacity of a small people to overcome great odds, to survive annihilation and assimilation, to flourish in the face of trials and to retain our unique identity and ways. Thus, Chanukah calls upon us to consider what we can do to strengthen our own Jewish identity and our people.

As important as it is, Jewish survival is not an end in and of itself but a means to an end. Our survival is our message. Our persistence proclaims hope to the downtrodden, the powerless, the dispossessed. It says, “we survived against all odds and we believe you can as well.” As Rabbi Daniel Gordis writes, “To be a Jew thus becomes a matter of making a statement, of reminding the world of the possibility of survival for those who would seem to have no hope.”

That is why we put our chanukiyot in our windows. That is why we publicize the miracle- not to brag, “Look I survived.” But rather to encourage by saying, “You too can rise up out of the ashes.” It is not about our superiority rather our responsibility. Even on a burned hilltop, even on a Pittsburgh street corner, we can be a light to the nation.

Chanukah Sameiach,
Rabbi Alexander Davis