Yael's Corner: Spreading the light

In this dark world, there are endless opportunities to spread light if we simply open our eyes and don’t fear starting with small steps.

YAEL ECKSTEIN and her family lighting the Hanukka candles. (photo credit: Courtesy)
YAEL ECKSTEIN and her family lighting the Hanukka candles.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘They say that the minute before dawn is the darkest and coldest point in the night. I hope this is the darkness before the sun breaks – the most difficult it gets – before we welcome the light of Hanukka,” I told myself in the days leading up to the Festival of Lights, when terrorist attacks in Israel and around the world were being reported nearly hourly.
This year especially, with so much darkness spreading so quickly, I certainly wasn’t alone in my eager anticipation of the Festival of Lights.
But lately I have been asking myself, what is the real message of this holiday? As a small child, I remember hearing the name “Festival of Lights” and imagining huge bonfires, house decorations sporting thousands of sparkling lights, and enormous menorahs like the one in Times Square standing outside every Jewish home.
Then, after all of the buildup to the holiday, my parents took out a few small menorahs for our family to light and only placed one candle inside for me to light.
And I must admit, it was a big disappointment.
“Don’t worry, tomorrow we’re light another candle,” my mother told me. “And for the last day, we’ll light all eight candles,” she said with a smile.
Yet even lighting all eight candles on that small menorah felt rather anti-climactic for a holiday with such a big name; the Festival of Lights. Headlights on a car give off more light than a fully lit menorah! But after living a little more of life, I have come to realize that the message of Hanukka is precisely in this paradox and is universal – that spreading lots of small “lights” of kindness and good deeds can collectively be tremendously effective in creating long-term change and instilling a secure hope in the world.
As we watch the world fall victim to terrorism and extremism, we all feel helpless. Together, people from all different religions, countries and political views are witnessing these vicious terrorist attacks taking place against innocent people. And despite our outward differences, we are unified in asking the same burning question: What can I do to make the world better? And just like the tiny menorah with a few small candles, most of us don’t have much to give.
Most of us are unable to make a dramatic difference in the political atmosphere like presidents and prime ministers. We’re unable to donate enormous amounts of money to create global change like Mark Zuckerberg. We can’t control militaries and make them more humane. In this very dark world in need of so much fixing, it’s easy to lose hope and feel helpless.
But then comes Hanukka to remind us how people, though they may be small in numbers, can defeat the many, if they are equipped with the right kind of passion, integrity and values.
As I looked into the modest candles of the menorah this year, I was reminded that every little act of kindness can make a tremendous difference, and each good deed can change someone’s world. And when this little light is spread, it’s contagious. It turns into a movement.
Anyone who has stepped foot in the Israel has felt the unexplainable love for the land and people that instantly penetrates the heart.
From the elderly Moroccan grandmothers giving out blessings, to the falafel store owner giving out free meals to soldiers, to the tens of thousands of people who travel hours on a cold winter night to dance at a victim of terrorism’s wedding, or to attend a lonely Holocaust survivor’s funeral, we’re all affected by one another’s simple acts of kindness.
Through my work with The Fellowship that has helped more than 1.4 million people around the world in 2015, with basic lifesaving aid, I have seen this to be true.
With each food box I deliver to an elderly person in need, I see the light of joy rekindled in their heart. With every scholarship that a poor, Druse young adult IDF hero receives, the light of hope is restored. And the light of thanksgiving will rest forever in the hearts of thousands of orphans who are able to buy new clothing because of The Fellowship.
But as we all know, it doesn’t take money to create hope, joy and light, and make a lasting difference in this world.
Just last week, The Fellowship’s Jerusalem staff was on a retreat in southern Israel. As they were leaving the last visit of the day, a worker saw a Facebook post about a wedding taking place nearby with only 10 guests. “If anyone could come to bring joy to the bride and groom it will be much appreciated,” the post said.
Within minutes the bus driver and all 100 staff members and volunteers were on their way to the wedding. After hours of dancing, singing and transforming a once lonely wedding into a true celebration, the bride and groom had tears in their eyes. “You have started our new life with hope,” they said.
In this dark world, there are endless opportunities to spread light if we simply open our eyes and don’t fear starting with small steps. Just as we start off Hanukka with one candle and add a candle to the menorah each night, so too we should never feel discouraged by starting our personal journey of growth and kindness “one candle at a time.” Because even one little candle in a dark room can light up a very large space.
Yael Eckstein is senior vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.