I won't say that the whole "Miracle of Lights" story of Chanukkah is a total myth, but it's origins are dubious. The First Book of the Maccabees mentions an eight day celebration, but no mention of one day's worth of oil lasting for eight days. It's the Rabbis of the Talmud who give us the candle lighting ritual. Many believe, as I do, that the roots of the ritual lay in the ancient times of our tribe--our light festival in the darkest time of the year.
This week I've experienced not just the visual light reaching out into the dark night, but how a community can shine a light of caring, breaking through darkness that envelopes a soul in grief.
Last Thursday I got a message from Jen'sList, a Yahoo! Group serving the Mission Minyan community, with a subject line "Minyan Needed." It was sent by a UCSF Medical Center chaplain who wrote, "one of my Jewish hospice patients died late last week. It was his wish and that of his family that there be a minyan present to say kaddish at his burial." I responded, saying that I would be able to attend.
The graveside service for Frank Isaac Strick took place yesterday-Monday, Dec 18-at 1:30 p.m. His sister Liz Eisenberg and her husband Roger--a cantor who performed the service--traveled from Baltimore, MD to be there. We just made 10, the minimum number needed in order for Liz to say Kaddish, a Jewish prayer recited in memory of the dead. She spoke movingly about her older brother, both with love and with pain. There were long periods of estrangement from each other. She described a brilliant but troubled soul, always seeking, questioning.
Our presence supported Liz in her grief. There were three of us there from Beth Sholom-each of us getting there through different paths of outreach. None of us had ever met the Eisenbergs before, yet they are a part of our greater Jewish community. There was more support for her at our morning minyan today. A couple of us stayed afterwards sharing some time with them over cups of coffee. Although they came to San Francisco knowing no one, they were not alone.
We also received a gift. Roger led the davening this morning, which included Hallel and a Torah service all in celebration of Chanukkah. He not only has a rich, full voice but you can tell the prayers come from his soul. More light coming from within.
This time of Chanukkah is a commemoration of the rededication of the Great Temple, a rekindling of the light in our sacred center. Our community is the vessel that holds the light. As long as we can hold each other, that light is secure.
For more tales of light, click here.