Spread the Light

By: Shayna Darling  |  December 31, 2012

We live in a society of taking. We feel that we are entitled to a certain degree of material and emotional comfort yet so often we forget to give back.

But it is giving which in fact allows us to gain a great deal for ourselves.

These thoughts occurred to me through my participation in an amazing activity hosted by the Stern Chabad club. The activity was miftzoyim, meaning campaign, which entails going out on the streets and helping other Jews do mitzvahs; and for Hanukkah, this took the form of handing out menorahs to encourage the mitzvah of lighting the Hanukkah candles.  It is unfortunate that in our generation, Hanukkah has been depleted of much of its meaning, and what remains is often gift-giving and eating latkes. While the mitzvah of lighting the menorah is widely known, it is not a priority for every Jew.  Of course, presents are fun and latkes are delicious, but they are not the true essence of the holiday. We must remember why we celebrate Hanukkah in the first place. It is because of the miracles we witnessed, it is because of the importance of bringing light into the world.

And what generation could use light any more than ours? We just witnessed a tragic massacre last Friday. We live in a world of darkness and chaos; people are floundering around in the dark, because holiness and spirituality are masked. Most people don’t know where to turn. And many of these people are our own, the Jewish people.

That is why taking part in miftzoyim was truly one of the most rewarding things I have done. With a $1 menorah kit in hand, consisting of a menorah, candles, and a dreidel, I walked around midtown Manhattan with friends, looking for Jewish people who have not yet fulfilled the mitzvah of lighting Hanukkah candles.  As Chabad Club co-president, Rochel Spanenthal says, “Surprisingly, even in one of the centers of Jewish life – New York – there are thousands of Jews that do not own a Menorah. Every Jew deserves to be given the opportunity to join in the light and joy of Hanukkah. Every person has  power to make a huge difference in the life of another and truly bring light into the darkness. This applies not only to helping supply others with a menorah on Hanukkah, but with every mitzvah.”  And this, in fact, was our aim.

It is a bit of an intimidating feat.  It is uncomfortable to ask strangers on the street if they are Jewish, and if they are, to ask them if they would like to light a menorah. But this is just one example of how stepping out of one’s comfort zone can result in tremendous satisfaction.

We encountered a variety of people and came away with a multitude of stories. There were the disappointing ones, like the Jews who would not admit they were Jewish, or who, after admitting to it, would walk away when I offered a free menorah. There were the funny ones as well, like the search for a Jewish person dressed as Santa during Santacon ( a night when tons of people dressed as Santa go barhopping.) In case you were wondering, yes, the search yielded positive results. But these were just pleasant additions to the moments of utter inspiration; the moments that made me realize why I wanted to participate in the first place. One night in particular truly brought the most light into my Hanukkah. It was a Thursday night, the sixth night, and it happened to be the night of a Hanukkah event I was attending with friends. At that point, knowing that Shabbat was coming, I was nervous about being able to give out my last of three menorahs before the holiday was over. But some opportunities arrive right at your doorstep, and some mitzvahs, it seems, G-d gives you assistance in performing.

I was in the Brookdale lounge where I had just lit my menorah, ready to leave with friends for the party. The front lounge was radiating with the light of dozens of menorahs, and people passing by, like every other night so far, stopped to admire the beauty. However, one older man not only stopped to look, but walked right into Brookdale. He approached friend and asked if he could light. Well, he asked the right people. I ran upstairs to my room to get my last menorah. Due to security reasons, he was not allowed to light in Brookdale, but we knew from previous nights of menorah handouts that Tiberias had partnered with Chabad Club and would allow us to bring the man to light the menorah in their restaurant . Someone borrowed a kippah from a Yeshiva University student in the lounge for the man to wear, and we crossed the street.

Tiberias was decorated for Hanukkah, with a blow up Jewish teddy bear and a large, silver menorah on the counter.  When we came in to ask if the man could light, they told him that he could light the silver menorah on display, which was already set up with candles.. The man told us that this was his first night lighting the menorah, and he truly looked excited.  He said the blessings, and then asked if he could have two more menorah kits for his adult children. We happily gave them to him, and then he pulled out his iPhone and asked to take a picture with our group. We could all see the happiness glowing in his face at the unexpected turn of events that the evening had brought him.

So yes, I did get a few nice presents this Hanukkah, and I had a great time at the Hanukkah party. But it was the incredible inspiration of helping another Jew bring light into the world and embrace his religion, which ultimately proved most important.