Don’t Let the Light Go Out!

A Special Hanukkah Message from Rabbi Segelman

In the last Review, you read about the Endowment Campaign that is beginning at WJC. A number of people have asked why this is happening and why it is so important. I would like to offer an answer.

In just a few weeks, we will celebrate Hanukah. As many of you know, behind the candles and the latkes and the gifts lies a powerful story.

When we were children, we learned that the battle of Hanukah was fought against the Greeks. In fact, it was a civil war—it was an epic struggle between those Jews prepared to abandon important practices of Judaism in order to embrace the beauty of Greek culture, and those Jews who saw this process of assimilation as the end of Jewish life. At the center of this struggle was the holy Temple in Jerusalem.

While that battle took place at a particular time and in a particular place, it is no less a struggle today. This is true not only between ideologies and movements in Judaism, but inside each and every one of us. We all realize we must make some compromises in order to thrive in the general society. Yet, where is the limit? How do we know if our choices will encourage and enable our children to embrace Jewish life in the future?

And like the Maccabees of old, the focus of the struggle is the Temple, the synagogue. Most people look to the synagogue in order to connect to the traditions. Even as we make accommodations to modern life, our ties to the synagogue keep us grounded in the ways of and the wisdom of the past.

You know WJC is far greater than that. Our Center has become the holy space in which the modern and the ancient co-exist. For us, it is not one or the other. We have become a place where the traditional and the innovative live together. Our synagogue models the ways in which the values of learning, patience, and mutual respect create a Judaism that is defined by balance and meaning.

When Judah Maccabee was victorious, he lit a flame. He knew that flame could not endure without help. We at WJC have lit a flame as well. It is a flame that reflects the beauty of both modernity and tradition. It is a flame that reflects the dignity of all of us. And perhaps most importantly, like a flame itself as it meets another, it defies the common wisdom and proclaims that when people listen to each other and compromise, they become stronger and not weaker.

This is our flame, our light. But like Judah, we know that our flame will need help in order to survive. We pray that God will miraculously tend to our flame that it will endure. Yet, no miracle would have happened to Judah had he and his leaders not immediately begun the search for new oil. It is only when we stand up and make every effort for ourselves that we have the right to ask for God’s help.

To answer the question, “Why an endowment?” the answer is—in the Hanukkah words of Peter Yarrow—“Don’t let the light go out.” Many of us have worked and continue to work tirelessly to light our holy flame. We have been building a house of God that is not only a repository of the ancient but a shining example of how a meaningful contemporary life should be lived. Never has our society been in greater need of our light.

As I complete my tenure at WJC, I am so proud of what we have built and the light that we lit. I am excited by the young people who are taking the reins of leadership. And I call on you to join me to make sure that the light does not go out. Our endowment campaign is the oil that will assure that our light will glow brightly into the future.

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