Spread light during this dark December


As I write this column, we face continuing troubles worldwide. In the Middle East, Israel and Hamas have agreed to a short pause in the fighting, which will probably be over by the time you read this. Hostages are being released, but how long that will continue is up in the air.

In Ukraine, the war with Russia slogs on, with no end in sight.

At home, a former president faces multiple court cases while being a front-runner in the campaign for the 2024 presidency.

Lest I sound all doom-and-gloom, our Thanksgiving holiday saw the heaviest travel since before COVID, and my family gathered at my house for a reunion of sorts. Fun, food and family made for a wonderful few days.

One year ago, I wrote a column about the upcoming season of light in the midst of darkness. I think this column is worth a second read now.

However you celebrate Hanukkah, make sure to light candles to crowd out the darkness of December. We are resilient and we will keep going.

From December 2022:

This Hanukkah, spread the light

It seems like we could all use a little more light in our lives right now.

Light gives us joy. It opens our eyes to the world around us and cancels the darkness.

And there sure is a lot of darkness right now. I’m not just speaking of the early setting of the sun, which can be just discouraging on its own. I’m using the word darkness figuratively.

In Arizona, election deniers are holding up certification of an election with little or no evidence that any serious issues occurred that impacted the outcome.

In Georgia, a runoff election is putting our core values to the test. And whichever candidate wins, is it a win for the state and country or another occasion for us to tumble into election controversy?

Our politics are dividing our leaders, and also our families and friendships.

December darkness in Washington, D.C., could bring more political controversy. Will Congress act on a long list of important and controversial issues before the end of their session? Will the new Congress work together to solve problems, or stoke them? And what will the Supreme Court do next?

We face a lot of economic uncertainty and potential shifts in our homes and investment values. Traveling is more expensive and more of a hassle. A triad of medical issues still threaten, from COVID and flu to RSV.

The impact of all this is taking a toll on our mental health.

And there is the war in Ukraine, turmoil in China and Iran, and concerns about food shortages and climate change worldwide. We are experiencing more mass killings and an increase in hate speech against Jews, Asians, Blacks and others.

It can feel overwhelming.

So how can we spread more light? What brings us joy? How do we increase our optimism and avoid focusing entirely on the negative?

Hanukkah is a good start.

A little light from the glow of our Hanukkah candles is always a welcome sight on these short December days. And that brings me joy. I know Hanukkah is certainly not the most significant of holidays, but it always seems to come at the right time.

Hanukkah is a celebration of freedom, perseverance and miracles. That little vial of oil burned brightly for eight nights. What could offer more hope in these negative times?

That promise of light attracts loved ones to my house, which brings joy to our entire family. And the anticipation of crispy latkes certainly helps.

I’m happy to host our family gatherings, with the accompanying excitement and warmth. Everyone has a menorah, and we light them all together. If that doesn’t push out the darkness, I don’t know what will.

A wise rabbi has told me repeatedly over the years that the more we light candles, like the Shabbat candles or the Hanukkah candles, the more light we bring into the world and the more good will come of the light.

This month, as you light the Hanukkah candles, take a few moments to focus on the positive, the warmth and the love that surrounds you. Take the opportunity of the Festival of Lights to shine a light on what is good and right. And perhaps take the opportunity to think about how you can contribute more to the light moving forward.

I’m going to kindle all our hanukkiot this year because our world can sure use the light. I hope you will too, and that it will help you experience some of the joy of the miracle of Hanukkah.

Fran Ostendorf

From the editor, Fran Ostendorf, Hanukkah