Congregants light the menorah at Congregation Ahavat Olam in North Andover.

A Festival of Lights in a moment of shadows



A Festival of Lights in a moment of shadows

Congregants light the menorah at Congregation Ahavat Olam in North Andover.

Israel is coming up on two months at war. More than 100 hostages have been released from Gaza – but over 100 remain captive. Israelis are starting to knit together the national wound that was torn open on Oct. 7 – and in the U.S., antisemitism has risen nearly 400 percent nationwide.

It is a moment of hope, light, despair and darkness for many in Israel and across the world. And in this moment of shadows, the Festival of Lights arrives. As the first night of Hanukkah comes on Dec. 7, spiritual leaders across the North Shore are looking for ways to draw a little light into a dark moment for the Jewish people.

“We have survived all the forces of darkness that have threatened to destroy us in every generation,” says Rabbi Idan Irelander of Congregation Ahavat Olam in North Andover. “In this war with Hamas … we experience a miracle every single day, when hostages are reunited with their families. They can now light the Hanukkah candles … with their loved ones.”

Irelander explains that for this Festival of Lights, “we don’t celebrate the victory itself, we celebrate the miracle – the miracle of the … oil, the lighting of the lamp, the victory of faith, and the victory of spirit.”

Says Irelander: “Hanukkah is the perfect holiday. It comes at the right time for the Jewish people today. The only real victories are the victories of the human spirit. It is light and love overcoming darkness and hate.”

In Beverly, Temple B’nai Abraham’s Rabbi Alison Adler reflects on a teaching of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who lived through a difficult time for Jews, alongside his own personal struggles.


Lighting the menorah at Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly.

“He talked about how there’s no time or person or moment when you can’t find the tiniest bit [of good]. He said ‘of good’ but I guess you could also say ‘of light,’ ” she says. “You find this little point here, and this little point there, and then you try to string them together, and that’s how melodies are made.

“I think about that,” she says. “Sometimes you’re talking about a person or an event, something where, no, you can’t find any good in that. And I think what happened on Oct. 7 – there’s really no good in that. But what are the little points of light that we are seeing? Or how can we uncover them? Or how can we try to bring them into the world ourselves through attending to what people need at this time?”

At Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, Rabbi Michael Ragozin encourages us to not lose hope. “This is not a time to give in to despair,” he says. “Hope is the message of Hanukkah, and we should be embracing the miracle of Hanukkah – when all seems like it’s lost, our people found a way to survive.”

He notes that “to be real is to recognize the pain, darkness, and suffering at this moment.” Still, “to be Jewish is to not give in to despair.”

Ragozin said doing that looks different for everyone. “If you’re caught up in the midst of suffering and darkness … for some people, it’s incredibly important that their feelings are validated. Sometimes just that sense of validation can be the turning point from despair to being open to a possibility of something different happening tomorrow.”

In Peabody, Rabbi Richard Perlman of Temple Ner Tamid is leaning into the idea of the opportune moment at which Hanukkah arrives in this year. “Hanukkah is the celebration of the miracle of the Maccabees, where a small [army] … in an impossible situation … beat the big guys,” he says. “The world seemed to be against them, and yet, the miracle happened.”

Perlman says that right now is similar.

“It’s our job to be a light unto other nations, and to show the world that we have faith, and that if we unite, and band together, and do the right things, and the just things and the compassionate things, then there will be light in the world,” he says.

“There will be another miracle of victory for the little tiny Israel, and the little tiny Jewish people.” Θ

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