I understand that there are, perhaps we must now say there were, a group of Syrian Jews who originated from Spain and have a unique Hanukkah custom when kindling the lights. When their ancestors migrated from Spain to Syria they did not initially find acceptance in the larger Syrian community. Sometime in the 16th century their new host culture in Syria accepted them as citizens of Syria.
On the eve of Hanukkah at that joyous time for these Syrian Jews of Spanish origin, they started lighting an additional candle on each night of Hanukkah. On the first night of Hanukkah they lit two candles instead of one. One the second night they kindled three lights instead of two, and so on. On each of the eight nights an extra Hanukkah light shined to commemorate the miracles of their own history and the glory of their particular identities and memories.
I hope there still are Syrian Jews of Spanish origin living safely somewhere. I also hope they are still adding an additional light to their Hanukkah celebration each night. Tragically, their nation of Syria is dark. No light radiates from the ruins of Aleppo. No better memories resonate at this time of inhumanity, war, and devastation.
On this Hanukkah, when we light our own candles let’s demonstrate that we are paying attention to what is happening in Syria, and elsewhere in our troubled world. We have to care. We have to support aid organizations. We have bring light to the hundreds and thousands of children still living or, we pray, healing who hope to find host cultures in Syria and elsewhere that will honor the dignity of their lives and identities.
The lights of Hanukkah are for us to see, not to use. That’s why we use a Shamash, a helper candle, to light them. Our lights shining brightly represent the light of God’s presence filling the world. They recall our people’s history and particular religious traditions. They celebrate the wonder and miracles of life that sustain us. Our candles symbolize the lights of love and compassion, of faith and Torah, of happiness and peace.
To support the victims of horror and war in Syria, I don’t suggest we add more lights to our Hanukkah celebrations. Instead, I suggest that the Shamash, the helper candle, represent us. We must help to bring lights of caring and compassion, healing and hope to the suffering Syrian children and their families. We must help them again to see a reason for adding extra lights to future Hanukkah celebrations.
Please kindle your lights of goodness and response through Hanukkah gifts and donations to these or other relief organizations.
Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief – www.jdc.org
Save the Children- www.savethechildren.org
Doctors Without Borders – www.doctorswithoutborders.org
Sit around the lights of Hanukkah in your home and speak with your children and grandchildren. Ask them what values and ideals the Hanukkah candles represent to them. Ask them how, together with you, they can help bring the light of what you and they believe to others here at home and elsewhere, and help to brighten a darkened world.
I wish us all a happy Hanukkah filled with light and faith, brightness and precious reflection, healing and help.