Posted by: Wayne L. Firestone, Hillel President on 12/29/2008 5:22:00 PM
I write from Israel where the light of the menorah is growing day by day from countless homes and public buildings.
It is easy to see the brilliance -- pun intended – of our namesake Hillel who declared that we add a candle to the chanukiah every night so that the light -- like the mitzvot they represent -- should only increase. After spending Shabbat with Taglit-Birthright Israel participants from Silicon Valley, Pittsburgh and Florida, I want to share a few short vignettes from the Hillel world that I hope will add light to your holidays at a time when I suspect we can all use some uplifting news.
At our Professional Staff Conference in Baltimore last week over 700 staff and partner agencies convened from around the world to advance our collective work and mission. As you can appreciate, many sessions focused on tools and strategies to address and navigate current economic challenges at the local level. Moreover, we learned about different local Hillels that suffered losses of support as a result of the Madoff scandal.
Yet at the same time, the energy and ruach (spirit) of the conference grew stronger, not weaker, each day we gained strength from one another, and were inspired by our colleagues’ words and deeds. For example, we honored Sapir College Hillel with the Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Experience Award for a breakthrough initiative from the past year. This Hillel -- isolated in the desert town of Sderot and subject to daily rocket fire from Gaza -- organized a nationwide collection of used clothing and other necessities which it makes available to students and others in the local community from their campus warehouse, a living tzedekah box. We were finally able to personally present the award to Sapir Director Eyal Matzliach this week a day after he and his family spent the night taking shelter from 70 katyusha rockets. When I shared Hillel's continuing concern and solidarity with the students and residents of Sedrot, Eyal explained that the municipal emergency service unit asked for Sapir students to distribute specific items from their warehouse directly to bomb shelters in the area (e.g., children's books and videos, radios and televisions, winter clothes and pajamas and floor rugs). He also wanted us to know that not a single Hillel activity had been canceled because in his words "threats" should not divert from our Jewish "values" and the way we lead our daily lives.
A common thread for me from both venues: Princeton Hillel Director Rabbi Julie Roth led a Hebrew song in Baltimore, which I have heard each day here in Israel on the radio and at each evening candle lighting in public and private gatherings: "Tsura choshech al hashachor (let the light push back the darkness) kol echad hu or katan (each of us is a small light) leculanu or eitan (but together we are a strong light).”
These anecdotes remind me that Hillel professionals are uniquely trained to bring light and hope to campuses and communities, particularly at a time of crisis and uncertainty. I hope the festival of lights will help you and your families and friends amass light from your menorahs so that it may continue to grow and linger far beyond the holiday.
RE: Chanukah's Light Pierces the Darkness
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