On Tuesday night, a Chanukah miracle of immense impact occurred in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. A young woman in her early 30s from Kazakhstan lit the Menorah for the very first time in her life. This also marked the first time in 75 years that anyone in her family had celebrated Chanukah. The family, whose grandfather had fought in the Second World War as part of the Red Army, came back home in 1946. As a “gift” from Stalin, he was then sent to a labor camp in Siberia. All the family knew was that they were Jewish. But the last person who had followed any tradition was her great-grandmother, and she had lit candles at home on Chanukah. That was the extent of their Jewish identity and connection.
Fast forward all these years, and this young woman came to work at Park East three months ago. Not knowing her background, we had never discussed Jewish holidays or anything about religion or traditions. My assumption was that she was not Jewish and not connected in any way. Yet, yesterday evening, out of the blue, I got this text – with a picture of the Menorah, wishing me a happy Chanukah. At first glance, the picture just seemed like any another Menorah. But then, she added the following text: “This afternoon, I went to buy a Menorah. I had no candles, so I used birthday candles, and I lit them with my hands shaking. I don’t know the blessing, and I don’t know the meaning. But I know that my great-grandma is smiling in Heaven. Chanukah Sameach.”
My friends, this is the Chanukah miracle. I printed out this picture, and as we light candles tonight at home. I will show it to my children and tell them, “THIS is the Chanukah miracle. It is all about the Jewish spirit and survival, and that no matter how much pain and suffering our people go through, we are alive and our flame burns strong.”