Chanukah D'var Torah by Tamar Cohen-Eckstein
These words were written by Tamar Cohen-Eckstein who became a bat mitzvah at Kolot Chayeinu on October 29, 2011. She is having another bat mitzvah during Chanukah in Jerusalem, at Robinson’s Arch. This is her d’var Torah for that bat mitzvah. I think its words resonate for us all. -- Rabbi Ellen Lippmann
What do you think of when you hear that?
I think of my living room, dark, except for the candles lighting up the windowsill.
I think of my family all together and opening presents.
My mom, singing her crazy Chanukah songs and expecting us all to join in.
When i think of all this it makes me happy.
Maybe this wasn’t what Chanukah used to be.
It used to just be about a miracle where one day’s oil lasted for eight days.
Now it is also about family and how miracles can bring people together.
It’s kind of strange that this how we celebrate this holiday,
considering the story of Chanukah itself talks a lot about people being ripped apart. When the Greek empire took over the ancient land of Israel
Jews were forced to give up their way of life. Some gave up Judaism
but many fought back. These Jews created a small army and began to fight.
They fought for two things.
First, they fought the Greeks for their freedom to be Jewish.
But they also were fighting to keep their fellow Jews from giving up their Jewish identity and becoming part of Greek society.
Violent war broke out. Many people would be killed
but the first to die was a Jew- by the hands of another Jew.
Today, Jews are still figuring out how to balance Judaism and modern life.
But hopefully death is not part of that struggle.
I am a Jew.
It’s part of who I am.
The story of Chanukah
is about Jews who understood what it meant to them to be Jewish,
and fought for it.
Other jews felt that they should adapt to modern society,
and to do this they had to give up being Jewish.
I don't think that the option has to be one or the other.
I wonder if there were people who wanted to adapt to greek life,
but still be jewish, even if it meant practicing in secret.
Each person needs to find their compromise
between Judaism and the modern world.
Some people make religion their entire life
and will never really get a true sense of the world.
And other people aren’t ever really part of their religion
and don’t get to experience that connection to the world through rituals, holidays, food, language, and community.
I think I am somewhere in between the two.
I am part of a Jewish community and do feel those connections to the world,
but there are other things that define me too.
It is hard especially as a kid to find that in between.
I think it will probably be much easier to do as an adult.
But all of us have to find the balance whether it’s between fun and homework,
time with family and time with friends,
or being Jewish and being part of modern life.
When you find the balance that works for you,
then you are able to experience life to the fullest.
Becoming a bat mitzvah required that balance.
When you become a bat mitzvah you have to put in a lot of work and thought. Sometimes I had to make sacrifices,
like not hanging out with friends and practicing my Torah reading instead.
Finally, I was up on the bimah,
surrounded by people that cared about me,
and sharing something with them that I had worked so hard on.
And now I get to do it again!
Although the hard work was technically preparing me for that day, and today,
I ended up getting to grow as a person.
I gained skills that I will be able to use for my whole life.
So even though at times the work we do can be hard and tough
there is always a final destination,
a light at the end of the tunnel.
Sometimes our lives are darkness.
Darkness isn't a bad thing, its what you might call “average life”.
Then there are the good things,
the things that bring light.
The light patches up our crazy messed up world.
We have to work to make those things happen.
The fact that we work so hard to get there makes them even better.
We have to trudge day after day though that darkness,
and push ourselves.
We have to keep going no matter what.
That is what makes those light spots even better.
Our world is pretty screwed up.
There are a lot of things people could do to make it better, to bring light.
Each and every person needs to do their part and stand up for what they believe in.
Its as if our world is a giant menorah;
the more people who want to do something,
the more candles there are;
the more candles there are,
the more effort people put into it;
the more effort, the more light,
the brighter the light,
the better our world is!
We have to be like the Macabees, and join together.
Although I don't agree with the way they fought, they did fight.
They wanted to make theirs, and others, life's better, and they did!
The story of Chanukah has many lessons.
It tells us to fight for what we believe in.
It tells us to make the world a better place.
But to me it also seemed to tell us to be happy.
This story is about a miracle.
This miracle has become a miracle of happiness.
Our job is to light the menorah.
Not just the ones sitting our windowsills,
but the one we are part of when we work together to bring light into our world.