13 December 2018
Last week, we celebrated Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. Over the course of eight nights, we lit the flames on the menorah, while our souls were illuminated by the inspirational story of the Maccabees. How can we continue to fan the flames of hope, strength and freedom throughout the year? One way is by recognizing the modern Maccabees who continue to inspire us.
One of the miracles of modern Judaism is the rebirth of Hebrew as a widespread, spoken language, ignited by the birth of Israel. When developing this new nation, its forefathers were faced with the tough decision of selecting a primary language: Yiddish or Hebrew. In Eastern Europe, Hebrew was reserved for religious practice, while Yiddish was used conversationally in day-to-day life; however, as Hebrew scholar Eliezer Ben Yehuda argued, the return to the historic land of Israel demanded the rebirth of a historic language. Since then, this ancient language has adapted to incorporate modern social, cultural, scientific and technological terminology needed to keep up with the present-day. Whereas Hebrew was previously reserved for religious texts, this language now serves as a warm and inviting light that sparks community in Israel and across global Jewry.
Additionally, on Chanukah we recall the Maccabean spirit of freedom and revolution, of education and dedication. We should also remember others who lived in that spirit, such as Lillian Helen Montagu. Montagu, born December 22, 1873, was a social worker, judge, suffragist and the architect of liberal Judaism in Britain. She was the first woman to preach from the pulpit in continental Europe. Aware of the challenges of modernity and the need to reform certain Jewish practices, she was careful to seek change while still honoring tradition. In one of her sermons, she explained that, just as our parents “give us their song of life,” we should take this source of inspiration, cultivate it and pass it on to future generations, thus keeping our communal and familial lights alive. Through her work, Montagu was truly a shamash—a helper candle who illuminated a spirit of strength in others and served as a guiding light for many.
Finally, last week, Americans honored the life of President George H. W. Bush. Partisanship ceased for a week as all segments of Washington DC and the American community honored a person whose life was defined by service. He was the spark behind the “Thousand Points of Light” campaign that continues to work on solving social issues through volunteer service. In this same spirit, you can help keep our communal light alive by volunteering in Greater Washington at the Edlavitch DCJCC’s D25 Day of Service on December 25, and by marking your calendar to join Federation at The Sara & Samuel J. Lessans Good Deeds Day on April 7, 2019.