Friday, December 23, 2011

The Time For Miracles

I've always enjoyed celebrating Hanukah: the colorful candles and wax designs that form as they melt, the delicious oily taste of latkes, and the story of the Maccabees. Then, growing up, there was the added treat of presents so that us Jewish kids wouldn't feel so left out from Christmas. I've been in Israel at least a dozen times on Hanukah and have always given thanks for the opportunity to be surrounded by my holiday and my people instead of blinking lights on Christmas tress, jingle bells everyone from the radio to the streets, and Santa ads as early as Thanksgiving. It even turned out that a few times my family just happened to have Chinese food and then watch a movie, returning home only to then realize that it was ironically December 25th. So I'm used to Hanukah in Israel and used to Hanukiot surrounding me instead of colorful trees.

But being in Israel during the weeks leading up to Hanukah and right on through the holiday season has been a completely different ballgame. In the past I have found beauty in the story of the eight nights of oil. I have marveled in the connection to real history while walking on the exact land the Maccabees fought on thousands of years ago. I have thought about the miracle while lighting the candles and singing the songs. But the miracle takes on a whole new meaning here: "nes gadol hayah po." A great miracle happened here. And right now is the time of miracles. Everywhere around me there is talk of this month as a period of nes.  With the flickering of the Hanukiot I see all around, I can't help thinking that maybe they are right.

All different people I have met and spoken to have indicated that this is the moment when miracles are in the air and after hearing it enough times, I have been trying to decide what small miracle I am going to focus on. I am already thankful to the miracle that I am in fact here this year. I am thankful for the miracle of my family, the miracle of thinking in a new way, the miracle of sharing ways of thinking and belief with those around me. There area also plenty of miracles I hope for: to succeed in my work here this year, to one day fall in love, to one day have a family, to one day choose the niche where I most belong. Then there are the more global miracles to wish for--peace, the healing of our environment, the healing of our global economy, using the power of technology to fix what we have broken, just to name a few. But like anything else in life, it is not enough just to hope, you have to work for the miracles you want. The people in the days of the Maccabees didn't simply hope to change things or that the oil would last, they made real sacrifices and once winning the Temple back, they worked hard to churn out oil as fast as they could, to reclaim their holy space, and to give thanks for each of the triumphs and miracles as they came.

Here are a few examples of ways that people I have met have reminded me that this can be the time for proactive change if you work for it: A religious girl I work with at one of the moadoniyot says each year she prays before the candles with all her might across the eight days. As the candlelight grows and grows each evening she says she gets more and more strength and fulfillment. She prays until they burn out each night and tries to harness the strength of the light for her personal journey. Another friend told me that the period of nes during Hanukah always inspires him to try something new, something he wouldn't have necessarily done before. Each year that he's pushed himself to do something different, he says he has learned something new about himself. It doesn't have to be anything big, it can be as simple as testing out a new food or saying hi to that person you always pass by in the hall but never have spoken to before. Lastly, a woman I work with told me that the time leading up to Hanukah is the time she uses to reflect on all the small miracles of her life and then think of what she can do for others. She leaves little envelopes of coins on park benches and hopes that a deserving person will find it. She packs herself some extra food for lunch and searches for someone in need to share it with during her lunch break. She leaves little anonymous, inspirational notes on peoples' desks and in their coat pockets for them to find later on.

All these little acts are miracles of themselves. One is through the miracle of prayer, one is through the miracle of self-reflection and improvement, and one is the miracle of small forms of tzedakah. It is up to each of us to decide which type of miracle most speaks to us. During this holiday season, may we all reflect on how we can give thanks for all of the miracles of our own lives and how we can add to the miracles of others.

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