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How to Use Your Beacon as a Guide on Chanukah

December 18, 2008 By:
Mara Sokolsky, JE Feature
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When I was a little girl in Yiddish school, we read a touching Chanukah story by Aaron Maggid. It concerned the plight of European refugees who were trying to make their way to the Jewish homeland right after the Shoah.

The story is set in a small fishing village in Eretz Yisrael. Little Miriam and her friends hear about the thousands of Jews -- young and old -- who are trying to reach their shore. In the cold and treacherous waters, many ships have lost their way.

Chanukah comes. Yitzchak the Carpenter builds the children an enormous wooden menorah, and they debate whether to put it in the synagogue or in the center of town. Miriam, however, leads everyone down to a big rock by the water's edge.

"We want to help those Jewish ships wandering at sea," she explains. "If we put our menorah on this rock, those on board will see our lights and understand that this is Eretz Yisrael."

Sure enough, on the last night of the holiday, Miriam's plan works. Someone on the deck of a ship, lost for many days, calls out, "Look, lights in the distance!"

And the ship is able to find its way. In the cover of darkness, the fishermen row out in their small boats and bring the refugees ashore. The night may be pitch-black, but everyone's hearts are full with Chanukah and with light.

Checking In and Being Present

It wasn't clear if this was a true story, but it is a poignant one. Here are Jews with little money or power, determined to help their unseen brethren find safe harbor in the Promised Land. Here are Jews looking out for one another. They have the light of the menorah -- of their faith -- guiding their way.

How does that translate to today? We who found our way, instead, to the shores of America are, for the most part, not poor and not without power. To our credit, we direct considerable energy and resources toward helping out wherever Jews are in need.

But, sometimes, the help needed is more subtle. Often, it's a matter of checking in and being present. How many of us make time to call on a senior who's grown increasingly isolated, a single mom with young kids, or someone new to town? Who wouldn't thrive on being attended to and listened to?

Time, care and attention are our weapons in the fight against being psychically lost at sea.

As a Mid/Yid, I've come to notice another group close to home that could use some of that menorah's guiding light. Many of us have, or know, young people who have recently graduated from college. That can be a bewildering time. After years of scheduled schooling, you're suddenly thrust into a non-nurturing, workaday world.

We've watched several of our friends' kids falter in that year or two after graduation, unsure which road to take, or even how to support themselves in the interim.

Wouldn't it help if we all adopted a post-college young person? We could provide a seasoned sounding board for work issues, perhaps a contact for a job, a dinner with other young singles, or the name of a good therapist. Just having that young person over for Shabbat dinner and lighting the candles as a sign of tradition and stability might help throw a small anchor into an otherwise-turbulent surf.

At different points, all of us have seen the road go dark. There's no age limit to feeling lost, or rootless, as we make our way along this unmarked path.

But if we're in a position to be holding the flashlight, or lighting the lamp, it makes sense to illuminate as wide a terrain as possible. You never know when your beacon might shine at just the right moment to help someone who's been floundering find their way to a welcoming shore.

Mara Sokolsky is a freelance writer living in Providence, R.I. E-mail her at: [email protected].

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