Hanukkah, the festival of light, comes on the darkest days of the year. Whether due to the waning crescent moon as the winter solstice approaches, or the consistently dark headlines, this is a moment when darkness is palpable.
Light is critical. As we say at the 14th Street Y, it either happened or it didn’t happen that light was the very first thing created. According to Jewish tradition, the very first light of creation was not a physical light of the sun, but a primordial divine light, that allowed the first humans “to see through it from one end of the world to the other.” (Talmud Chagigah 12a-b). Yet, the rabbis tell us, human acts of evil blocked this light, and it was only available to humans for the first 36 hours of our existence. This light is called Or Ha-Ganuz, the hidden light, and it can only be revealed briefly in the world, through shining acts of goodness.
Here is what I know about these tiny sparks: sometimes they are easier to see when there is no other light outshining them. In the darkness of these dark and cold days with less sun and almost no moon, our pupils are wide open seeking out this hidden light of goodness. Our tradition teaches that Hanukkah, the darkest time of the year, is precisely when we have the most access to this special, hidden light. And, we light 36 candles (8+7+6+5+4+3+2+1), reminding us that we can also illuminate the Or-HaGanuz, the hidden light of goodness, through our actions.
As a community center, our mission is to bring people together to harness our collective power to act, to make the world more like the one that we want to see.
We can see that light reflected in our gallery with Portraits of the 14th Street Y, by the extraordinary photographer Bridget Badore. I am inspired by these photos and stories of so many of you, but today I am inspired by the words of Antonio, who works in our KOL program for children with autism and other related needs. Antonio says:
“I like helping kids see the potential that lies in everyone. As a child, I always wanted to be a superhero. I know I can’t run fast, I’m not the Flash. I can’t fly, and I can’t save the world, but I can help save someone’s world. I can help them feel loved or help them feel a part of the community. That’s where a lot of my passion comes from in the work that I do.”
In Jewish tradition, there was a text that says that if you save a single life, then you have saved a world. Each of us, daily, change and save worlds of individuals in our community. In the work that we do in our community, we come together to create a microcosm of the world we would like to see writ large. If we can create it, then those who live in and grew up in our community can imagine what the world could look like, and grow up to make it.
Each of you has a superpower, a way that you can overcome the darkness and access and draw down sparks of Or HaGanuz, the hidden light of goodness. As we light candles, we can also change the world. I hope that you will bring that superpower to our community through your actions and participation, and you will also make participation possible for more of our community with a generous gift.
Your donation in any amount ensures we reach our goal of $18,000 by December 31. We’re more than halfway there, but need your support now to help us provide programs at reduced rates to those in need in the new year.
This week, we have 8 days to light 36 candles, and I ask us each to think as we see the glowing lights of the Hanukhiah (Hanukkah menorah)–how are each of us using our own unique superpowers to find, uncover, reveal, and make manifest Or Ha-Ganuz, the hidden divine light?
Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein