It felt challenging to celebrate the Festival of Lights in this time of great loss and darkness but we’re the bringers of light! I turned to G-d and our history for inspiration. Holocaust stories tell of prisoners who risked their lives to honor our traditions.
An article by Lev Poplow, Bornstein Holocaust Center, referenced Yaffa Eliach’s book, Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust. One story of Rabbi Israel Shapiro, who lost his entire family at Bergen-Belsen in 1943 and remained with other prisoners, was “determined to celebrate Hanukkah in the traditional manner and draw whatever spiritual strength they could from the story of the Maccabees.” He gathered bits and scraps of fat and thread to kindle the Hanukkah lights.
“Hanukkah in Bergen-Belsen,” written by Libi Astaire, award-winning author of Jewish history and mysteries, tells the story of Rabbi Shmelke, a prisoner during Kislev, 1944. While performing his duties of dead body removal, he stumbled upon a hole in the frozen ground and unearthed a makeshift menorah containing a jar of congealed liquid, eight little cups, and strands of cotton. He wondered about the fate of the person who had buried it there but, that night, recited the blessings and kindled the light.
Rabbi Shmelke survived and years later, on a trip to the U.S., visited an acquaintance, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, who disclosed that he, too, had been a prisoner at Bergen-Belsen. He was rescued four days before Chanukah and told of the provisions he had buried and left behind. Rabbi Shmelke, smiled and said, “Your menorah was used. It dispelled the darkness for hundreds of Jews and helped at least one of them survive the war.”
Let’s be inspired to shine light into every dark corner of the world.
Happy Chanukah. Am Yisrael Chai.
Terry Segal is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a Ph.D. in Energy Medicine, author and mixed media artist.