Motti Wilhelm

Is this sustainable?

For the first time in 39 years of the public candle lighting, the site was fenced off and people had to register and show ID to enter

At 4:00 AM, I gave up and moved to the couch.

Thursday night, the Portland public menorah was lit for the 39th consecutive year since Hanukkah 1984. As in cities around the world, Portland’s menorah has become a local Hanukkah icon, and through media, its message of freedom shines forth to people of all faiths and backgrounds.

The first night and the first light are always special, and Thursday night even more so. Two months to the day since the savage attacks of Shemini Atzeret, October 7th, a record 900 people gathered in Portland’s city square to light the candle of faith and hope. The atmosphere was electric. We were determined and committed to ensuring the Jewish light burns stronger than ever.

It was also more intense. For the first time, the area was completely fenced off. People had to register and show ID as they entered. There was both a private security team and a strong police presence, and we had two pre-event security walkthroughs. The preparations and Divine blessing came together to make a tremendously joyous and prideful experience.

So at about 4 AM this morning, I found myself awake thinking, this is not sustainable. The security costs are astronomical, the process is arduous, and on top of it all, it’s not foolproof. I was wondering if next year we will need helicopters flying above our event to ensure the Jewish people can exercise “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

Then I recalled that first Hanukkah. The one where they found the oil, and there was only enough for one night.

I imagined the people finding just enough oil for one night and lighting what they had.

Perhaps the Cohen Gadol (the High Priest) couldn’t sleep that night. Maybe he was thinking about the oil burning out and contemplating, “This is not sustainable.” How will we get oil tomorrow, and what will the day after bring? We made it tonight by the skin of our teeth. What does the future hold?

But the light kept burning. For eight nights. For 21 centuries. Whether in Jerusalem or in Germany, during the golden ages and the dark ages, the oil always seemed like it was about to be consumed, but somehow, the light kept shining.

We do not know what next year will bring. But we know the candle will still be burning.

About the Author
Rabbi Motti Wilhelm received his diploma of Talmudic Studies from the Rabbinical College of Australia & New Zealand in 2003 and was ordained as a rabbi by the Rabbinical College of America and Israel’s former chief Rabbi Mordecha Eliyahu in 2004. He was the editor of Kovetz Ohelei Torah, a respected Journal of Talmudic essays. He lectures on Talmudic Law, Medical Ethics and a wide array of Jewish subjects and has led services in the United States, Canada, Africa and Australia. His video blog Rabbi Motti's Minute is highly popular as are his weekly emails. Rabbi Wilhelm and his wife Mimi lead Chabad SW Portland as Shluchim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
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