By Rabbi Karen S. Citrin
Many of us, even in the dark days of December, can still remember the break out of “Maccabiah!” and other memorable moments from our summers at Yavneh. Especially now when winter sets in, we recall fond memories from camp that light our way as we look ahead to next summer.
Maccabiah gets its name from the famous Maccabees of the Chanukah story. To ensure that the Jewish community could continue to openly practice their Judaism, the small band of brothers from Modi’in fought the Syrian-Greek army and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem. That is how Chanukah got its name, meaning “dedication.”
Today, we celebrate with lighting the hanukkiah and enjoying latkes and sufganiyot in honor of the small cruse of oil found in the Temple. I am especially fond of the teaching in Talmud Shabbat 21b, which instructs us where to place the Chanukah lights. “Our Rabbis taught, it is a mitzvah to place the Chanukah light at the entrance of one’s house on the outside; if one lives upstairs, he places it in the window nearest to the public domain.”
In other words, the message from the rabbis is, “pirsum ha’nes” – “to publicize the miracle.” Like the Maccabees, on Chanukah we take pride in our Jewish identity and shine our lights brightly for all to see. It is a different light that we shine, a light born from courage, strength that is “mibayit u’michutz – inside and out”, and finding joy even in dark times.
When I look back on my days at Camp Yavneh in the 1980’s-90’s and last summer on faculty, I attribute Yavneh to fostering strong Jewish identity in youth and adults. Each day at camp, we express our Judaism in different ways, learn from one another, dedicate our minds, bodies and spirits, and create new sparks of Jewish light.
This Chanukah, may we continue to be the Maccabees of our time. Be strong, ignite your light, and take pride in the miracles of old and in our own day. May these lights guide us to next summer and beyond.