Hanukkah, tikkun olam: Continuing to light the way - opinion

Rather than sit back and wait for a miracle, we’ve embraced the uphill struggle – and allowed ourselves to find optimism and hope in the results.

 THE 2020 National Menorah is lit near the White House last December. (photo credit: ERIN SCOTT/REUTERS)
THE 2020 National Menorah is lit near the White House last December.
(photo credit: ERIN SCOTT/REUTERS)

When you dedicate yourself to building a more just world, it’s natural to focus on how much remains to be done in pursuit of such a lofty goal. Tikkun olam, the Jewish value of repairing the world, is an uphill struggle. 

Baked into Repair the World’s core organizational values is an acknowledgment that our work will never be finished, yet that doesn’t deter us from advancing it. The Jewish people are called upon to leave our communities stronger than we found them, to make a significant contribution and then to hand the unfinished efforts off to future generations.

Whether staff, lay leader, fellow, service corps member, volunteer, service partner, Jewish Service Alliance member, or funder, each of us contributes to changing our world, a goal that is unlikely to be completed in our lifetime. And each of us stands to help light the way – via incremental steps forward – on a path toward justice. 

There was a great debate between Hillel and Shammai about how to properly light the hanukkiah after the destruction of the Temple. Shammai proposed lighting every candle on the first night and lighting one fewer each night thereafter, to mimic the nearly depleted oil that kept the eternal flame lit. 

Hillel argued that the number of candles lit should increase day by day to recreate the miracle of the oil keeping the eternal flame lit long after it should have burned out. Hillel went on to argue that while we should not wait for miracles to happen, there comes a sort of optimism and hope from noticing them when they do. 

 RABBI YEHUDA Teichtal and German Health Minister Jens Spahn at a Hanukkah ceremony last year in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. (credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS) RABBI YEHUDA Teichtal and German Health Minister Jens Spahn at a Hanukkah ceremony last year in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. (credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)

In the present day, we gather around the hanukkiah for the eight nights of Hanukkah and watch the candlelight grow brighter and brighter. We recall the presence of miracles for our ancestors in seasons past, while considering what is within our domain to repair in the communities we are part of today. 

At Repair the World, our light has grown brighter this year. In July, we shared the stories of Jewish-Americans showing up to serve and meet unprecedented needs in their communities at a critical moment in our global history.

Out of that response, we set forth a vision for transitioning from this moment brought on by COVID-19 to an enduring, sustainable movement that will ensure service is a foundation of American-Jewish life and has a meaningful influence on the identities of young people across the country and the communities in which they serve.

Rather than sit back and wait for a miracle, we’ve embraced the uphill struggle – and allowed ourselves to find optimism and hope in the results.

For example: Repair the World volunteers and program participants exceeded 100,000 acts of service and learning last year for the first time;

Eighty-five percent of Campus Corps Members reported feeling somewhat more or much more connected to the Jewish community because of their experience with the Service Corps;

Eighty-one percent of BIPOC-led service partners reported being able to serve more people in their community because of their partnership with Repair;

Eighty percent of participants in Repair’s episodic service events indicated that they felt much or somewhat more motivated to serve afterward;

On every hanukkiah, there is a leader candle used to light all the others, known as the shamash. The shamash takes its own light and offers it to each additional candle until the entire hanukkiah is lit. In this Hanukkah season, we take stock of the last year, we consider how we shine our light and how we help steward others to also shine, with the goal that we may shine brighter together. 

Our Jewish service movement continues to grow, fueled by champions of justice and social change, inspired by the wisdom of Jewish tradition, and standing on the shoulders of those who came before us.

We invite you to join us, on your own time and in your own way, so that our work toward building a more just world may continue to grow. In this season, we embrace the hope and optimism that being part of this movement may instill, as we are also reminded that it will only be through our ongoing commitment to service and Jewish learning that we may truly repair the world. 

The writer is senior director of Jewish Education for Repair the World.