Chaim Y. Botwinick

Chanukah Reflections 2022: Keeping the Lights Shining Bright


Ohr chadash al Tzion tair v’nizke chulanu m’heira l’oro….                                           

Shine a new light on Zion, and may we all soon be worthy to share its light, (Shacharit)

This past Chanukah, was like an island of bright sunshine in a sea of cloudy and overcast skies.

Over the eight days of Chanukah, we had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate the Chag in all of its splendor with family, friends and community. It was an amazing time to connect, reflect and observe the beautiful mitzvot, halachot and minhagim of the Chag and to reconnect with family and friends.

Unlike the Chanukah of several years ago when our world was facing COVID health restrictions, this year, we were fortunate to enjoy each other’s in-person warmth, friendship, love and company.

As is the case with everything in life, one person’s half full glass is another person’s glass which is half empty. To be sure, this past Chanukah was a confluence of palpable realities and strong emotions which were juxtaposed by the simcha, joy and wonderment of Chanukah.

The happiness, joy, and warmth of Chanukah in our homes was contrasted by the freezing, damp and dark Jewish households in the Ukraine; the exchange of meaningful gifts and delicacies between our family members and friends was contrasted by the thousands of Jewish poor, shut-ins and the homeless. And finally, as I lit our Chanukia and began to sing maoz tzur, I was painfully reminded of the untold number of Jewish households in the world that are completely devoid of any physical or spiritual sense of Jewishness or Jewish identity. Again, living in a world of sharp contrasts.

These powerful juxtapositions are accentuated by a world and a society in turmoil.

When I lit our Chanukia, I thanked HaShem  for blessing us with the amazing opportunity and good fortune to be able to kindle the eight candles and oil lamps with my family in a country which promotes and supports peace, civility and religious freedom.

Unfortunately, today we are experiencing levels of global anti-semitism, anti-zionism and religious discrimination unsurpassed in recent memory. One can’t help but feel the increased levels of hatred and more recently physical violence directed at our Jewish community. This is happening right before our eyes and are reminiscent of the horrific events of pre-Nazi Germany.

Even during the week of Chanukah we were bombarded with media reports about inflammatory anti-semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric and violence in our own communities. We try desperately to repress our feelings of despair and concern by not allowing these realities to eclipse the splendor, warmth beauty and joy of Chanukah. But, as we know, our natural innate survival  instincts take hold and stirs in all of us memories of past history.

As I lit the eight candle this past Sunday evening, I closed my eyes and prayed to HaShem that my immediate and extended family and community be blessed with excellent health and that next year we should have the good fortune to light our individual and collective chanukiot in the beautiful golden streets of Yerushalayim.

But, after kissing and hugging my family and wishing them a Chag Urim Sameach, I could not help but think about the future of our Jewish community – its viability, its vulnerability. It is an inescapable reality which haunts us and chills many of us to the core.

At the conclusion of Chanukah, I began to feel somewhat melancholy that the Chag of bright lights, freedom and victory was concluding at a time we are all facing these daunting realities and harsh challenges. But, at that moment, I recalled a photograph which a close friend sent to me several years ago. It was a 1931 ( Hebrew date, 5692) iconic photo of a menorah on a window sill in the city of Keil, Germany. When peering through the window beyond the  menorah with eight candles, one can see a Nazi party flag hanging from a building just across the street. This phonograph which was taken by Rachel Posner, wife of Rabbi Akiva Posner of blessed memory is most striking on so many levels: and, it continues to leave an indelible impact on my thoughts and emotions.

It is a sign of defiance and a symbol of hope and promise. It is a true reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. But it should also give us strength and resoluteness that we will not only endure, but will flourish in ways never before imaginable.

The miraculous victory of the Maccabees over the tyrannical influence and harsh aggression of the Syrian-Greeks, should always be a reminder that not only do we survive, but we thrive and prosper.

May this Chanukah shine its bright lights on our families and communities; and, may HaShem  bless us and our communities with good fortune to fulfill our dreams into the future.

L’Shana Haba’ah B’yerushalayim  – Next Year in Jerusalem.

Am Yisrael Chai !

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is a senior executive coach and an organizational consultant . He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami; in addition to head of school and principal for several Jewish day schools and yeshivot. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, resource development, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011
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