My Utopialand

Jacob Celebrating Hanuukah In Jerusalem (2019)

My favorite holiday, Hanukkah, is around the corner and could not come at a more ideal time. Jewish history has been constantly blessed with similar themes and outcomes such as the consistent defeat of improbability at the hands of possibility.

Hanukkah comes at the darkest time of the year both physically and spiritually. Most of the day is in darkness and we are the farthest away from our Spring and Fall religious holidays. This darkness could easily consume our spirits, especially this year; but right on cue comes the one holiday Jews celebrate which is symbolized by shining light when times get dark. In fact, the darker the world gets, the greater the opportunity for light to shine. Not only did the Menorah shine bright after the near annihilation of the Jewish people by the hands of the Greeks 2000 years ago, but that same light will shine this year as well.

While hardships persist, it is challenging to latch onto that light. During a time full of troubles and tribulations, it’s no doubt that for many, this year has been the darkest of their lifetimes. Who would have imagined back in January a global pandemic, economic collapses, skyrocketing suicide rates and other disasters plaguing humanity? Despite all of this, somehow I wound up in the most ideal, happy and positive environment on planet earth.

With a view of the Kotel from my bedroom window, there is no amount of darkness that has phased my spirits. I get to see the spot where the miracle of light took place every single day! As a student at Aish HaTorah, I witness on a daily basis people expressing gratitude and appreciating the blessings of even the tiniest of things such as hearing thunder, seeing a rainbow, tasting an apple, waking up, etc… (Not to mention the constant rejoicing at life by singing and dancing in the hallways for no reason other than to express unconditional happiness for being alive). I also receive non-stop positive encouragement to grow as a human being and to achieve my ultimate potential by becoming the best me I possibly can. There are days I forget that I am living through a global pandemic!

Positivity has the power to spread the contagious light of happiness across the world. I am so fortunate to have been in Israel the past year and a half, spending my time learning the wisdom and maintaining the traditions of my ancestors dating back thousands of years.

Judaism is a constant reminder of the eternal hope that we instill within ourselves and others. No wonder when the State of Israel was established, Hatikvah, (Which translates to “The Hope”) became it’s national anthem.

Throughout my journeys in Israel, I have witnessed people instilled with hope and love. One such individual is Rabbi Yosef Ettlinger who founded GoBidud, a global kindness revolution designed to help and assist anyone impacted by Covid. A single spark of love for one’s fellow turned into tens of thousands of families receiving aid. This developed into what will be a viral concert this Hanukkah with renowned singer Eitan Katz honoring all our “golden-age” warriors. I believe the foundation of the world is built on acts of kindness, and genuine kindness like this is what inspires me the most.

Building this strong foundation of kindness within the Jewish Nation is instilled within our DNA. Judaism stresses the importance of caring for one another so much that there are even strict guidelines as to not charging each other interest. This trains us to not just do what’s in our own self interests but the collective interest of the entire Jewish people. Judaism is not strong because there are good Jews; Judaism is strong because we have outstanding communities eager to perform acts of kindness. This can be compared to the Menorahs we are about to light this week. The light of our Menorah’s side by side shines brighter with each additional candle.

All light is contagious but there is something extra special about the Menorah’s light. Maoz Tzur was one of my favorite songs growing up. “…And from the one remnant of the flasks a miracle was wrought for the roses. Men of insight – eight days established for song and jubilation…” The beautiful melody adds to the words recalling all our past troubles only to come out in awe and joy. A great example of how the brightest light we feel comes immediately after a time of darkness.

Understanding the hurt so many feel today, Hanukkah could not come at a more ideal time. Hanukkah optimizes the promise that no matter how dark the world appears, light will always prevail. Knowing how many people are looking for opportunities to build up the world with kindness gives me full confidence that we are heading to a more prosperous, moral and compassionate future.

Being in the Holy Land studying at Aish with the Kotel as my front yard still feels like a fantasy to me. I am in awe of all my learning and experiences this past year and a half. Flying to Israel the day after graduating college was against the norm of my peers and was shocking to many; but it makes me reflect on how grateful I am to have trusted my gut and to have taken a leap of faith. Finding myself in such a wonderful place, with the most genuine people, loving life every single day makes me feel truly blessed to be in my utopialand.

Some of my highlights this past year include being the only person in the world touching the Kotel on Yom Kippur during a nationwide shutdown, starting my own Torah podcast group “Unscripted,” all the lifelong friends I have made and understanding the deeper meanings of my rich heritage. There are countless more, but no highlight comes close to wearing my Hanukkah suit (seen in cover photo) around Jerusalem last year. Hyping up Israelis, birthrighters and all those tourists who have never seen someone so festive before is something I will never forget.

Life is such a gift! There is so much to celebrate. Let’s rejoice this year with the festival of lights and shine our light across the world! I have a feeling that 2020 will conclude in such brightness, and I believe that many will turn around, relish the light they have found, and reflect it to others as well. Remember, a single Menorah shines bright, but a nation of Menorahs can light up the whole world!


About the Author
Currently a student at Aish HaTorah, Jacob is experienced in Israeli advocacy and very passionate to spread awareness for Jewish and Israeli causes.
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