Chanukah is known as the Festival of Lights, and every year, I think of this holiday not just for the candles that illuminate our pretty menorahs but for the way the Jewish community shines a light for loved ones and even for ones we don’t know. We are a giving people who look out for our own but also for the greater good in our communities.
I see the evidence of that light shining throughout our 25th anniversary exhibition, “History with Chutzpah.” One of the exhibit’s six sections, “Benevolence and Community,” explores the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, defined as acts of kindness performed to repair our world. “History with Chutzpah” also shines a light on the love of family that is such a connecting tissue in our culture.
A great example of familial love is in the “Patriotism and Perseverance” section. An unusual artifact, nearly 125 years old, helps tell the story of Sam Greenblatt, who lied about his age (16) and, in 1898, enlisted with the 4th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry to fight in the Spanish-American War. No doubt concerned that her son would become homesick, Sam’s mother, Beile, stuffed his knapsack with homemade bagels before he shipped off to Cuba. One bagel, however, became buried in the bag and wasn’t discovered until his return. Sam eventually settled in Atlanta where he became a successful businessman. And his bagel? It has been handed down through six generations of his family.
On view in “History with Chutzpah,” it no longer looks very appetizing. But I think it illustrates the bold and bright light that connects Jews through the generations, that makes us care for loved ones, friends, even strangers. In a world increasingly beset with conflict, disinformation and threats, our light is more important than ever.
Leslie Gordon is the The Breman Museum’s executive director.