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Unexpected Illumination

November 21, 2005
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When I moved to Yotam Street, I was fascinated by the drama of these myriad melodies, rising with dimension from the yeshivah next door. That first Friday night, I went out for a walk, determined to explore the neighborhood. Tracking the amplified sounds of a lilting Sabbath liturgy, my walk to the yeshivah resulted in dismay: the building’s windows were draped to opacity, its courtyard surrounded by broad, green plastic.

I strained to see beyond the barriers, to observe the activity I knew flourished inside. Yet I recognized this was an exclusive community and hesitated to compromise its occupants’ sanctity. For one moment only, I allowed myself to peek between the gaping plastic sheets, squinting to see anything beyond the interior curtains. Absorbing little and feeling invasive, I finally gave up and walked away slowly. Honestly, I was afraid of being confronted by a black-hatted rabbi. I could only imagine the scolding I’d receive—a voyeuristic, gentile American woman, wearing Levis and Nikes. Oy vey! Every day since, I have hurried past the yeshivah, a world tightly secluded from my peering interest.

All of that changed on the first night of Hanukkah (Feast of Dedication or Festival of Lights). As I rounded the corner toward the yeshivah, I stopped in my tracks and gasped in amazement. For there was the yeshivah in all its repute, its green plastic raised, its interior curtains parted. In the glowing exposure of its expansive windows, some 30 young men stood in radial light, kindling their individual hanukkiot (eight-branched candleabras). The students were following rabbinical mandate that hanukkiot should be lit in front of a street-facing window, proclaiming to the entire community their joy at God’s miracle of light and dedication.

Standing there, I realized why Hanukkah is one of my favorite Jewish holidays: its celebration of God’s redemption is displayed brightly to the entire world. We cannot obscure the meaning of Hanukkah, hiding it away like the unleavened bread of Passover. We cannot eclipse its regality with revelry, as we do in our celebrations of Purim (the Feast of Esther). Instead, Hanukkah’s luminescence—a celebration of God’s faithfulness and sovereignty over darkness—is broadcast upon the most disenfranchised wayfarers, enlightening even this American goy (non-Jew), this inquisitive woman in Levis and Nikes. What a privilege!

By Crystal R. Nelson

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