The Gift of Kindness: 2020, COVID and Chanukah

November 5, 2020

I have always loved the stories about Chanukah when a small group of Maccabean soldiers were victorious against powerful King Antiochus and his Greek forces in 165 BCE . Magic happened after the fighting and while there was only enough oil left in the temple to light the lamps for one night, a miracle happened and the oil lasted for eight nights. This is why we celebrate by eating food fried in oil like latkes (potato pancakes) or sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).


I hope that after all of our political posturing that a miracle can happen again and we can repair our country, find ways to work together for the benefit of all of our citizens and bask in the light together. This year we celebrate Chanukah from December 10 – 18, 2020. This holiday always begins on 25 Kislev on the Hebrew calendar.

Old Jerusalem Jaffa Gate with blue chanukkiyah during Hanukkah festival

One day, a student asked the rabbi: Rabbi, I know that to be Jewish is to have a special role, a special job in the world. Rabbi, what is my job as a Jew in the world?

The rabbi, never one to answer directly, looked at her students and said: Friends, what is the most important job in the world?

President of the United States! Someone shouted. Prime Minister of Israel, said another. Someone even said: Rabbi! Clearly, he was trying for a good grade. Firefighter! Doctor! Teacher! Artist! Teacher! Parent! The answers came from all corners of the room.

The student looked at the rabbi and said: But Rabbi—what is the right answer? What is my job as a Jew in the world?

And she said: Once upon a time, long before iPads and iPhones, before TV and streaming, even before there was electricity—there was a person in every town who was responsible for lighting up the streets. On the street corners, lamps sat—ready to be lit each night as the sun began to set. And there was one person whose job it was to walk from street to street, from lamp to lamp, with a flame he carried at the end of a long pole. Each evening, the rabbi said, this person would walk her route, lighting each and every lamp—no matter how cold it was, or how hard it was to reach.

But, what if the lamp is in a desolate wilderness, far from everything and everyone, one of the students asked? The rabbi answered: Then, too, it must be lit. And what, asked one of the students, if the lamp is in the middle of an OCEAN!! The rabbi smiled and said: The one must put on a bathing suit, jump into the water, and light it there. Without it, she said, there would be no light.

The student looked again at the rabbi and said: Rabbi, I still don’t know the right answer. “What is my job as a Jew in the world??

The rabbi looked at her students and said: You can be anything that you want to be. But no matter what you decide to do with your life, you must be a lamplighter on the streets of the world.

Thank you to Rabbi Sari Laufer for this parable.

We can all be lamplighters and help to lift each other up! If you need ideas about how to build your community, read Erica Perl’s book, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, in which the children bring their neighbors together in gratitude for their help!

Our world can be transformed by kindness. We need it now more than ever. Consider starting a new tradition in your home and on the seventh night of Chanukah, hold a special candle-lighting ceremony in honor of Chag HaBanot: the Festival of the Daughters. Thank you to Ritual Well for these instructions!

Use your hanukiah, your Chanukah menorah, or use a special second menorah for the festival, and ask all of your family members to take a role in lighting the candles.

  • Light the first candle in honor of Judith and all Jewish women heroes throughout history.
  • Light the second candle in honor of women heroes that you admire (name names).
  • Light the third candle in honor of women teachers and spiritual leaders whom you know (again, name names, including relatives and friends).
  • Light the fourth candle in honor of Jewish mothers and grandmothers, including your own.
  • Light the fifth candle in honor of all Jewish girls.
  • Light the sixth candle in honor of your family. (This candle can be special for daughters, or you can have the candle represent the whole family, men and women, boys and girls.)
  • Light the seventh candle in honor of the Shekhinah, the indwelling presence of God that is in every person (in Jewish mystical tradition, the Shekhinah is depicted as female).

Are you looking for books about Chanukah? You might be able to win one! The Book Meshuggenahs are 18 Jewish women writing award-winning, traditionally-published books for kids with Jewish themes and characters.

Enter the Book Meshuggenahs’ Chanukah Contest: Be the Shamash by December 1! Just as the helper candle — the shamash — lights the others in the menorah, people can be the shamash by helping others.

I hope this holiday season you find a way to bring the light into your family, your life and our world in a way that brings more warmth, kindness and community. Amen.

Kayla and Kugel’s Happy Hanukkah by Ann Koffsky (Apples & Honey Press)

Buy this book here.

Find a coloring page here.

Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match by Karen Rostoker-Gruber, illustrated by CB Decker (Apples & Honey Press)






Buy this book here.

Find the teacher guide here.

Find a coloring pagehere.

Dreidel Day by Amalia Hoffman (Kar-Ben Publishing)

Buy this book here.

Find a coloring page here.

Hannah’s Hanukkah Hiccups by Shanna Silva, illustrated by Bob McMahon (Apples & Honey Press)

Buy this book here.

Harvest of Light by Allison Ofanansky, photography by Eliyahu Alpern (Kar-Ben Publishing)

Buy this book here.

How It’s Made: Hanukkah Menorah by Allison Ofanansky, photography by Eliyahu Alpern (Apples & Honey Press)

Buy this book here.

Like a Maccabee by Barbara Bietz, illustrated by Anita I. White (Yotzeret Publishing)

Buy this book here.

Find the teacher guide here.

Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor by Ann Koffsky, illustrated by Talitha Shipman (Apples & Honey Press)

Buy this book here.

Hanukkah Delight! by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Amy Husband (Kar-Ben Publishing)

Buy this book here.

Runaway Dreidel! by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker (Henry Holt)

Buy this book here.

The Eight Nights of Chanukah by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Elivia Savadier (Abrams)

Do It Jewish – Use Your Jewish Creativity by Barbara Bietz.

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