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Exploring the Light of Chanukah

“From every human arises a light…” The Baal Shem Tov

a toddler observing a string of lightsPart of the work of our Jewish early childhood initiative over the past 13+ years has been a focus on rethinking possibilities for meaningfully celebrating the underlying messages of the Jewish holidays rather than being on automatic and just planning the usual activities and projects. One way to accomplish this is to engage in Backwards Design and uncover the “big ideas” of a holiday which allows us to design experiences for children and families that deepen connections to these leading ideas. One such underlying message of Chanukah is the concept of light. Chanukah celebrates the idea of turning darkness into light and given the times, what an inspirational message that can be.

With the connection of “light” to Chanukah, many in Jewish early childhood classrooms pull out the light tables, overhead projectors, string lights, and flashlights at this time of year, which is always fun, and yet, I’m often left pondering the question of “why.” Are we paying attention to why we play with the magic of light at this holiday? What are the many things that light symbolizes? How are we connecting the experiences back to those “big ideas” of the holiday for both children and families in meaningful ways?

a toddler inserting candles into a menorahI think it starts with engaging our minds around what light symbolizes in the story – hope and faith, light overcoming darkness, etc. What does it mean to be a light? How do we shine a light on each child’s unique, divine spark? There are so many possibilities.

Powerful quotes can be a guide. How might you share some quotes with families and have them share back their thoughts or send stories and/or images of their child’s “light?” What do these quotes communicate about the concept of light? How do they connect to our role as educators? How might we elicit children’s ideas related to being the light?

Here are some quotes to spark your thinking:

There are two ways of spreading light:
to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” -Edith Wharton

“A candle is a small thing. But one candle can light another. And see how its own light increases, as a candle gives its flame to the other. You are such a light.” -Rabbi Moshe Davis

“The Shamash is the candle that lights the others. Be a Shamash.”-Rabbi David Wolpe

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” -James Keller

a child looking at a projected menorahOther big ideas one might explore include miracles, freedom, and bravery. Though many believe Chanukah translates to “Festival of Lights,” in fact, the word Chanukah means “dedication’ in honor of rededicating the Temple after it was defiled. This big idea of what it means to rededicate a space to its’ original purpose also has so much potential for creating Chanukah rituals. I’ve always loved the piece offered by CLAL (Center for Learning and Leadership) for families related to Rededicating Your Home on Chanukah.

If you are seeking some inspiration regarding the big ideas of this holiday HERE are some readings that can spark your thinking.

At this time of year when our days become shorter and we exist literally with more darkness in our lives and when the pandemic has continued to bring heaviness and a metaphorical sense of darkness, I find the following quote by the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to be an inspiration:

“There always were two ways to live in a world that is often dark and full of tears.

We can curse the darkness or we can light a light, and as the Chassidim say, a little light drives out much darkness. May we all help light up the world.”

And a final thought as Chanukah approaches,

“May we all be blessed with miracles wherever we need them.” – Micaela Ezra