“If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.
“His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages, and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone. Other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished.
“The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” (Mark Twain, September 1897)
The Jewish people have a purpose, a mission in life. Our holy Torah mandates that we become a “light among nations.” On Chanukah, as our homes sparkle with the lights of the menorah, we should take a hard look and think about our responsibilities to fulfill this mission.
I am a Trekkie; I have watched Star Trek numerous times. During Chanukah time, I think of the opening monologue, but I change the words around. Here goes:
“Torah... The final frontier...
These are the voyages of the Jewish People.
Its continuing mission:
To radiate our kindness and chesed into the world,
To seek out the unlucky, the downtrodden, the sick and infirmed –
To boldly go where no one has gone before!”
Each night, we add a candle, as we are reminded that we should take life step by step. As we gradually increase the Chanukah lights, so should we increase our practices of chesed. Each day, we can grow and improve ourselves over the day before. Life is like a down escalator: Unless you improve yourself, unless you are stepping up, life will inevitably pull you down.
Unfortunately, in current times, Jewish people are not looked at so honorably. Thanks to corporate media and social media highlighting Jewish political corruption, NYPD scandals, Ponzi schemes, and slumlords creating havoc on their tenants, we are not seen as a beacon of light. John Adams, second president of the United States, said, “The Jews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. They have given religion to three-fourths of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more, and more happily, than any other nation, ancient or modern.”
John Adams was indeed correct! We are a beacon of light – but we have to show the world, once again, that we are. First, however, we must stop thinking of just ourselves!
Chanukah toy drives are ongoing in every community. Five years ago, I started one in honor of my father Tzvi Hersh ben Esther. How is it that the only person to show up at my house is a saintly rabbi coming from Far Rockaway to put two checks in my mailbox? In a foot of snow, this awesome and revered rabbi, Rabbi Eytan Feiner, known for his brilliance and chesed, drives to my place in a winter blizzard, to help my cause with no questions asked.
How is it that I walk into a castle in Hewlett Neck Harbor or Lawrence surrounded by such opulence, observing two maids cooking and another set of maids doing house chores, and the master of the household tells me, “I’m tapped out,” yet the barber in the street, car mechanic, divorced dad of four who can barely keep up, teacher, etc. rise to the occasion?
I am not making a wholesale statement. There are always a handful who don’t just press the delete button, ignore, finger-point, or give advice, but react immediately because they realize that it’s not only about them and their loved ones but others, too. They are compassionate and want to comfort the unfortunates out there, too.
There are some members in every shul who are steeped in chesed and refuse any honor whatsoever. They wish to remain anonymous. I understand because the mitzvah is greater, but in today’s times these acts should be publicized to ignite the spark that is buried deep inside the heart of every Jew so they could participate in chesed, too.
In many homes, parents buy Chanukah presents for their children and each other. Back in the 1960s, I used to look forward to celebrating Chanukah with my parents and sisters. We lived in the ghetto of Alphabet City. I used to think to myself as we lit one additional bulb each night on the electric menorah, what are the neighbors thinking? I admit being kind of nervous, because I didn’t want all the Spanish neighbors knowing we were Jewish. My siblings and I each received one Chanukah present. We were overjoyed! Yes, you heard me correctly: We received one Chanukah gift and were overjoyed!
Chanukah is a great time for families to come together. We sit together. We tell stories, sing songs, and shmuz. It’s family time. But it’s also a time to look around and notice if anyone needs help. Do you know if anyone would like to enjoy lighting the Chanukah menorah with you, or come to you for some hot latkes and applesauce? How about going one night after lighting to a senior center, or spend some time visiting patients in a hospital and light up their lives? You could sing and dance with the elderly or lonely and make them feel loved and appreciated. If we close our eyes to the suffering, whether they are sick, infirmed, or down and out, then we miss the message of this beautiful holiday.
Chanukah is a beautiful time to reclaim our role and show the beauty of the Jewish people by engaging in many chesed opportunities. It is a time to shine as a Jew! After lighting the menorah, Jews should publicly demonstrate chesed and kindness to their fellow Jews and neighbors. Chanukah is a great time to illustrate to the world why there is a good reason for the Jewish survival.
Israel Root is a prolific writer, inspirational and motivational speaker, paralegal, and an educator. .