Taking the Light with Us: A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Berkman

December 15, 2023

Last night, I watched with gratitude and with sadness as the eight flames of the hanukkiah flickered strongly and defiantly, then slowly burned down to embers and then completely out. I couldn’t tear myself away from the sight of it – these two hanukkiot that we’d placed in the window, fulfilling the mitzvah of “pirsum hanes” (publicizing the miracle), during a time when it can be, unthinkably, a bit frightening to show the world that we are Jewish. I felt that one of the hanukkiot was burning for the 135 hostages remaining in captivity in Gaza, who have been kept in literal darkness for 69 days. We cannot let the light of hope for their return be extinguished. We are obligated to keep so many flames burning right now, against strong winds from every direction that are threatening these flames. Among them: The flames of hope for the hostages; the flame of hope for an end to this horrific war, which can only come with the return of the hostages and the complete surrender of Hamas; the flame of Jewish identity and pride in our identity – of not being afraid to be publicly Jewish; the flame of fighting antisemitic rhetoric and violence as it arises throughout the world and in our own backyards. 

It is a grave and powerful responsibility to keep these flames burning. The meaning of Hanukkah has never felt more relevant in many of our lifetimes as it does this year: Hanukkah as a moment in history when our people insisted against all odds on re-sanctifying what had been desecrated, on re-situating themselves in a spiritual center when threatened with dispersion and assimilation, on re-affirming their identity as Jews when the surrounding world wanted it otherwise. All of this, we are called to do at this time. “Bayamim hahem bazman hazeh,” we chant in the Hanukkah blessing – referring to the miracles that our ancestors experienced during this season. This year, we could understand “bazman hazeh” to mean “and also in this very time.” 

This Hanukkah, hanukkiot were brought up from the rubble of the destroyed and desecrated kibbutzim and were lit by survivors. Tamir Hershkovitz, of Kibbutz Be’eri, lit his family’s menorah in the wreckage of his childhood home. His parents and grandmother were murdered in the October 7th massacre, and the menorah belonged to his late grandfather, Yosef, who was a Holocaust survivor and partisan during WWII. 

As we face the challenge and the privilege of bringing the light of Hanukkah with us into the time ahead, may we be strengthened by the knowledge that we are part of a chain of generations that has insisted on light, on life, on connection and community despite and even in the midst of destruction and devastation. May we be strengthened by the stories of survivors of the October 7th atrocities who have observed Hanukkah this past week along with all Am Yisrael – the Jewish people. I encourage you to read the stories and watch the videos and see the photos featured in this piece in the Times of Israel, demonstrating the ongoing and awe-inspiring strength of our people. 

Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman