By Rina Haller
A milestone is upon us. In the grand book of American post-high-school students in seminaries and yeshivas, Chanukah is it. Regardless of where they buy their sufganyiot, somehow the eight days mark and judge the past months these teenagers have been in Eretz Yisrael. While I am long past deciding if I am indeed in the right school, I enjoy watching the process—I have recently completed shanah aleph.
There is talk in certain circles of the importance of sending your child to study in their homeland. Many parents view the year with a bigger picture on their agenda. They fear not the creation but the potential destruction. The current fear is a modern day Chanukah itself.
One of the deepest messages of Chanukah is the miracle of oil, finding the pure flask among the conflicting secular influences that now infiltrate even the Kotel wall itself. The beginning of this first year, the first few months away from your hometown are stripping away and sanding down all you think to be true. Do we light our menorahs and sing to the tune of the mall radio simultaneously? Very few, can preach true separation from experience, nor am I among them. So much, if not the majority, of the noise I hear reeks with the subtlety of a world I am slowly climbing out of. Yes, I was raised in America and there Hashem placed me. But, are you a Jewish American or an American Jew? This daunting question must be on our minds, especially on this holiday.
The now-infamous Pew Report should ring in our ears as we bite into our latkes. In the cross-section of the States, six out of ten Jews are intermarrying. I want to cry as I write that fact, because it is a fact. Begone, generation who fought for Shabbos, for kashrus. Where have your children fallen? Can one among us claim not to have a family member or a close friend who has married, or is likely to marry, out of our faith?
This is not to be dramatic, this is to be frank. All Jews are responsible for one another and something is lacking in me, in each individual, in our community if we can even claim knowledge of an individual who doesn’t see the beauty of our birthright. I have sat in classes in Aish Hatorah and I am amazed at who will find their way home. I have teachers in Darchei Binah who themselves picked up the pieces and are now raising beautiful, Torahdik families. It does not matter where you come from. Each one of us is special enough to be created, to be born as a Jew. Why do we push others aside when they can only make us whole?
Completing the circle and bringing the Klal home requires more of NCSY, JEP, Oorah, the Shabbos Project in South Africa—all of these works and more edging a Redemption closer. Pushing the water down seems easy, but do we allow the oil to naturally rise above?
Even if you do not play a role in an organization, have guests, or give lectures, reach out. You have that friend; show him or her the light of love only the Torah can give. Challenge yourself to invite one person, one family to a Shabbos meal. Reconnect with a relative you long wrote off. We are family. No one gets left behind; we will not move forward and light our menorah in Yerushalayim of old until the chain is rebuilt.
Here are eight days where a miracle, not just of battle, but of a light shining through the fog of the world, is remembered. Do we fuel the fire or douse the flame our ancestors fought and died to continue? Are we unsure where our allegiance lies? Contemplate and thank G‑d you were born Jewish, where will you let your soul take you?
Stare into the glow of your candles or oil. Reach inside and make the change. Be the people we read about. Stand firm and be proud—as they once called out, “Who is for Hashem?” Let the chant be real—“Am Yisrael Chai.” v