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Eric M. Leiderman
Community builder • Rabbi • Artist • Husband • Dad

Illuminating Resilience in the Festival of Lights

A Hanukkiah burning bright in the darkness

Dear My Beloved Jewish Community,

As we stand within hours of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, and the radiant glow of the Hanukkiah (the trademark nine-branched candelabrum of Hanukkah), I find myself compelled to address you with a plea that resonates with the challenges we collectively face. In the spirit of unity and shared heritage, I extend heartfelt greetings and implore you to join hands in an act of unwavering Jewish resilience and strength by embracing the light of Hanukkah.

Beyond its festive allure and the joyous glow of candles, Hanukkah encapsulates a narrative of resistance against assimilation and a testament to our enduring spirit in the face of antisemitic forces. The historical roots of Hanukkah, steeped in the triumph of the Maccabees against oppressive forces, serve as a beacon of hope and inspiration for our community.

Lighting the Hanukkiah carries profound meaning, transcending tradition to become a declaration of identity, a testament to our strength, and a commitment to preserving our heritage. As we kindle the flames, I recall the words of Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, reminding us that the flexibility of halacha allows us to adapt our observance to various circumstances, ensuring that the essence of the tradition remains intact.

Each flicker of light becomes a poignant reminder that, despite the darkness that may surround us, the light of our community burns brightly. As the Talmud in Tractate Shabbat 21b outlines the basic requirement to light Hanukkah candles in a public space, we find guidance rooted in our ancient traditions to emphasize the communal nature of this mitzvah.

As we approach this Festival of Lights, I implore you to consider the significance of this ritual in the context of our contemporary challenges. Antisemitic pressures may attempt to cast shadows on our celebrations, discouraging public displays such as placing candles in a window. Yet, in these moments, we must remember the adaptability inherent in our ancient tradition.

We know from our not-so-ancient history that Jewish communities have celebrated Hanukkah in the face of pogroms and even in the ghettos and concentration camps of the Shoah. In his gloss on the Shulchan Aruch, the early modern period rabbinic leader, Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Rema), acknowledges the legitimacy of lighting Hanukkah candles within the home when external pressures pose a genuine threat. Whether you choose candles, oil, or electric lights, and whether you place them in a window or on a table within your home, the essence of the tradition remains unchanged.

I urge you to see the lighting of the Hanukkiah as more than a personal observance. Let it be a shared commitment, a collective proclamation of our resilience, and a demonstration of our unyielding spirit. As we adapt our observance to the realities of our time, we preserve the integrity of our tradition while boldly asserting our identity in the face of external threats.

This Hanukkah, let our shared lights shine brightly as a symbol of unity, strength, and the indomitable spirit that has guided us through history. May the warmth of these lights be a source of comfort, and may their glow inspire courage in our hearts.

I wish you and your loved ones a Hanukkah filled with the shared brilliance of our collective resilience.

With heartfelt sincerity,

Rabbi Eric Leiderman
President & Co-Founder, Masorti on Campus 

PS: For additional insights and resources on Hanukkah, including instructions on how to set up your own Hanukkiah, I encourage you to visit exploringjudaism.org/holidays/hanukkah/

About the Author
Rabbi Eric Leiderman (he/they) is an award-winning community builder and Jewish educator with over a dozen years of expertise working with youth and emerging adults. He is the Midwest Regional Director of IsraelLINK, President & co-founder of Masorti on Campus, and serves on several boards of directors of national Jewish nonprofits. Eric grew up in the New York Metropolitan Area and has spent significant time in several North American Jewish communities and in Israel. He currently resides in Chicago, Illinois, with his family.
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