In Awe of Awe

One of the most memorable experiences from my childhood came when I was on a family vacation as a teenager at Yosemite National Park. Going on a hike and turning a corner, I encountered an extraordinary waterfall. The sound, the volume of water, the light, and the rainbows were all in front of me. I stood there in awe for a long time just soaking in the sheer power and beauty of the place.

A recent article by Henry Wismayer in The New York Times brought this memory back to mind, when the author surmised that travelers to space on upcoming trips may not experience awe. Due to the preparation, the comfort, and the predictability of the experience, they may have an incredible, memorable experience, but probably not a sense of awe. According to this author and others, awe most frequently arises when we are confronted with a unique experience that surprises us and leads us to see ourselves in a new way in relation to the world around us—even if just for the moment.

But how often does this happen?

My colleague, Andrés Spokoiny, recently touched on a related point on the miracle of Chanukah. He notes that the Chanukah miracle we most often celebrate, a jar of oil that lasted eight days and nights, seems somewhat insignificant in comparison to other historical miracles of the Jewish people. But, as he adds, perhaps a small, less “ostentatious” miracle was the point all along.

I experienced this myself just yesterday morning, when in the midst of our winter Chanukah celebrations I was struck by how the sun reflected off the leaves in a way that seemed almost golden. Moments like these can be easy to overlook, but they can also remind us of life’s smaller miracles and moments.

A strong community may require moments of significant awe, but it is shaped and driven by the many small experiences that perhaps seem ordinary but are actually extraordinary. Reaching out to help someone. Taking the extra time to really get to know someone. Seeking to understand the other’s viewpoint and needs even when we disagree. This is what builds community, and these ties are what will enable us to thrive. While I think back at that waterfall with awe, it is these other actions taken by people every day that inspire me, and I believe most of us, as we go forward.

Thank you for everything that you do.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,


P.S. On another but related note, thank you to those who gave so generously to Federation this Giving Tuesday. In choosing to care for our community, you are collectively building a more vibrant Jewish future. Thank you for making our work possible, and for trusting in Federation as your partners in philanthropy. Our campaign remains open until December 31st. To make your gift before the end of the year, please visit

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