Don’t Let the Light Go Out by Gevura Davis


Don't Let the Light Go Out

One of my most poignant memories of Chanukah growing up was listening to a concert at my parents’ temple. We heard classic folk songs but waited until the very end to sing the famous Chanukah song “Light One Candle.” Tear-filled eyes filled the room, audience members swaying to the melodic harmonies. As a child I didn’t understand the song’s significance, but as an adult I think I might finally grasp it. The lyrics are a reflection of the inner understanding of a Jew about the purpose of religion and the importance of passing the torch of Jewish values to our children.

The chorus implores us:

Don't let the light go out

It's lasted for so many years

Don't let the light go out

Let it shine through our love and our tears.

The song recalls the Maccabees miraculous rise to victory against the much stronger and better equipped Greek army. It discusses the Jewish people’s fight for survival and its battle against assimilation. It challenges us to continue to live the legacy of faith, hope and justice that are the mainstays of Jewish values.

The song’s words are a call to action to Jews everywhere to maintain their faith. Chanukah is believed by many to be the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday. You will find Jews who light a little menorah on Chanukah and that is quite literally the only Jewish thing they do all year. When I was in college, I had a friend who, in the middle of his super-cool fraternity, would put a napkin on his head and recite the blessings in his frat house before getting drunk and heading to a club. Why do so many Jews continue to hold this mitzvah so close to their hearts?

Some speculate that it’s Chanukah’s close proximity to Christmas while others suggest the holiday is about presents and children’s fun. While both of these are true to some degree, I would suggest that the Jewish people's connection to Chanukah goes much deeper. Many Jews in the 20th and 21st century have assimilated fully into American culture. Yet for most Jews, there continues to be a spark of Jewish light that will not be extinguished.

The answer, in my opinion, is that the voice telling almost every Jew to light a menorah is their soul speaking. The soul is telling the body, I yearn for a connection. I yearn to shine my special light. I yearn to plug into something greater than myself. I yearn to stay attached to Judaism. I yearn to see miracles. I yearn to see the G-dly in the world, even though Greek and modern culture scream at us that there is no eternal meaning.

Everyone knows how special the light of Chanukah feels. The laughter and singing around the beautiful flames of the menorah. Chanukah will soon be over, the candles extinguished, and it will time to store the menorah away with the rest of the things in the garage. The question, of course, is how to channel the soul’s inner voice the other 357 days of the year? How else can we allow our soul to shine? How else can we continue to not let the light go out?

The same part of our soul that sings when the bright menorah lights are glowing, also connects to so many other of the beautiful mitzvot in the Torah. The good news is that Jewish practice has so many other opportunities for us to feel connected to that wonderful feeling we all experience during Chanukah.

The battle of the Chanukah story – the Jews fighting to maintain their identity in a world that wants to absorb them – continues to rage. We are a small nation with large values. It’s hard to be different. It’s hard for our children when their friends go out to parties and football games on Friday night while we sit down for Shabbat dinner. It’s hard to defend Israel when we see the United Nations defaming our army and calling into question our country's right to exist. But, just like the song implores, it is our sacred obligation not to let the lights go out.

Shabbat Shalom!


Gevura Davis is an educator who currently works as the Director of Women, Youth, and Family Division of The Etz Chaim Center in Elkins Park outside of Philadelphia. She recently moved from Kansas City with her husband and five children.

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