Last year my daughter Lielle got her first hanukkiah – a homemade one crafted by her grandparents with her favorite animals flanking the candle holders. She studied it for a long time, rather nonchalantly, trying to decipher its purpose. It did not play music or light up; it could not be cuddled or stacked – what exactly did it do? It was not until we lit the first candle of the holiday and sang the blessings together that Lielle (and it) alighted with joy.
I have been thinking amidst this season of intense shopping about how lucky she and all our children are to be surrounded by “things” that not only entertain, communicate, or move, but also that ritualize their lives and educate their hearts and souls.
The very root of the word Hanukkah itself alludes to this multiplicitous gift. Its Hebrew root ח.נ.ך (chet nun chaf) is typically understood as meaning “dedication” – of Temples big and small, of moments seemingly insignificant and yet filled with awe, and of each step into the blessings of togetherness. But the root chet nuf chaf also means “education” (חנוך) – in desks of school and waves of sea, in relationships seemingly insignificant and yet filled with awe, and in communities of learning and introspection.
Perhaps in this way Hanukkah can be an opportunity and a blessing for all of us to appreciate the spaces in our lives where dedication meets education, where songs and rituals power us as much as batteries and charging cords, and where our learning has spiritual and historical depth. For those of us for whom gift giving is meaningful, may we find and make gifts for loved ones that inspire their continued growth and connection.
Thank you to everyone in our community who joined us last Sunday to welcome in the light and inspiration of Hanukkah and provide the gift of camp to dozens of campers at the Ramah Galim Gala!
Shabbat Shalom and Hanukkah Sameach,
Rabbi Sarah Shulman
Director, Camp Ramah in Northern California