A Channukkah Message from Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand
Thursday, 10 December 2009Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, Executive Director of the Movement for Reform Judaism reflects on the fundamental message of Chanukkah.
“We thought there wasn’t enough, but miraculously, there was”
According to Rabbi Mordecai Finley, my Reform colleague in Los Angeles, this is the fundamental message of Channukkah. The miracle story of the oil is meant to remind us of all the times in our individual and collective lives when we didn’t think we had enough – enough love, enough time, enough energy, enough strength, enough resources – but instead of giving up, we kept going and miraculously, found that we did have enough.
If Rabbi Finley is right, then the truly inspiring part of the Channukkah story is that the Macabbees lit the lamp at all. If they knew the oil would only last one day and it would take eight days to make more, why didn’t they wait seven days to light it to insure that it wouldn’t go out? The remarkable part of the story for me is that they had the courage to take action, light the lamp, and hope for an uncertain future, when all indications were that the light would go out after a day.
Last Channukkah, in the midst of an international banking crisis, I found myself looking to the miracle story for inspiration. It felt like the financial world was crashing around us. People were losing their savings and losing their jobs. Not surprisingly, many charities and foundations were losing their funding. It felt like there was “not enough” and no hope that there would ever be enough again.
I was so proud of the Board and Council of the Reform Movement that they made the same decision as the Macabees to have faith and act with hope. While there were painful cuts that had to be made to the budget, and “prudence” became our watchword for 2009, in the face of uncertainty, we maintained our commitment to youth, students, rabbis and synagogues. We met our fundraising targets and exceeded our programmatic goals for 2009. We figuratively “lit the lamp” and had faith that people would do whatever it took to keep it burning. And they did. Our donors who could afford it gave more money than they thought they had. Our committed staff gave more energy than I thought possible. Our board gave more time and support that one could reasonably expect from volunteer leaders. Together, we kept the light burning and flourished in a year where many floundered:
- Our RSY-Netzer summer camps were overflowing
- Our Jeneration university student programmes doubled in size
- Jeneration.org grew to 30,000 unique individual visitors, reaching more young adults than we had even imagined existed in the UK
- Leo Baeck College ordained 8 rabbis, who have gone on to serve our congregations
- We welcomed the first HUC-trained Cantor, Zoë Jacobs, to the UK Reform Movement
- The Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK published another successful book, “Really Useful Prayers”
- RSY-Netzer Hadracha course grew to 136 participants
- Rabbi Dr. Tony Bayfield proudly represented Reform Judaism as chaplain to the Lord Mayor of London
Those eight achievements were only a few amongst the many highlights of 2009. They shine like the eight candles of a Channukkah menorah as a tribute to what can be achieved when one has the faith to light one candle. I am grateful to all those who made the light burn bright – donors, staff, rabbis and lay leadership of our synagogues, RSY-Netzer, the Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK, Leo Baeck College, Jeneration and the Movement for Reform Judaism.
A year ago, it seemed there wasn’t enough, but because of you, there was.
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