It starts with one candle…

Delayed flights, frenzied visits, last-minute sales, oil-drenched foods, decorations galore, family dynamics on full display… the December holidays can be both stressful and enjoyable. If we’re fortunate, they can also be illuminating.

One common theme during this season is the significance of light. Decorative or ritual, lights can represent many things besides helping to create a festive environment. As beautiful as they are, our Hanukkah lights serve a uniquely non-functional purpose. In fact, we are not supposed to use the light created from the menorah (which is actually a Hanukiyah as it has nine branches instead of the traditional seven branches of the menorah used during the times of the Holy Temple) for any other purpose than simply to enjoy them and share them with the public. Part of the mitzvah associated with lighting the menorah is related to sharing the celebration with others by placing the candles in a place visible to the outside.

In Israel, buildings are sometimes designed with special alcoves specifically for the menorah to be easily viewed by passersby. While we are not permitted to derive a direct benefit from the light produced, we can benefit from what this light may represent. Each of us has the potential to influence others around us, to use whatever unique qualities we may possess to impact the lives of others in a positive way, to elevate our relationship with our family members, friends and our community.

Ironically, the Hanukkah story depicts a conflict which was unlike most of the existential conflicts the Jews have faced over the years. It was a battle against Greek assimilation. Today, we live in a different time with very different perceptions of tolerance, and freedoms to observe as we choose. One might argue that it is our diversity that strengthens us. There are many wonderful and attractive things about being American and living in a culture that seeks to use a certain time of the year to focus positive behavior and generosity. Fortunately, the Jewish tradition supports these behaviors throughout the year, through our welcoming guests on Sukkot and Passover, generosity to those in need on Purim, or general attitude of Chesed (acts of kindness), Tzedakah (obligation of charitable support) and Tikkun Olam (repairing or completing the world).

For many of us, promoting insularity and seclusion are not practical or desirable. Addressing the challenges of assimilation requires both a knowledge and appreciation for the traditions and values of our heritage as well as a respect for others’ traditions. This respect and tolerance for the beliefs and traditions of others around us is important; however, we should be mindful of the messages we send and share with our children as part of this important legacy of constructive behavior and responsibility for others, not just during the winter months of November and December, but all year long. We are blessed with holidays and celebrations, commemorations and other opportunities to interact with our community throughout the year. I encourage you to share your unique light with others and to explore how celebrations can become a more regular part of your family routine as we seek to prolong the positive energy associated with this season.


As the conduit for all things Jewish in our community, Jewish Federation, its partner agencies and vibrant program areas including our Commission for Jewish Education and Jewish Volunteer Center offer numerous opportunities to engage in meaningful ways through social action, volunteerism, educational and family-oriented programming. In partnership with our local synagogues, schools, and community organizations, there are ample opportunities for families, and people of all ages, in the Palm Beaches to engage with Jewish life in their own unique ways. Federation and CJE are committed to supporting Jewish education and engagement throughout our community and I invite you to participate, volunteer, join a committee or task force and become involved in our burgeoning community.


We are here to help everyone navigate their respective Jewish journeys and we appreciate your dedication and involvement.

Wishing you and your loved ones a meaningful and enjoyable Hanukkah, holiday season and new year.


Behzad Dayanim, Chief Learning Officer
December 27, 2019


Read Behzad Dayanim’s previous blog posts here.