Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Never Alone

Lighting the menorah on Shrewsbury Town Common is no easy task, but I've done it nearly every night of Chanukah for the past 17 years. The first night's lighting is always well-attended, since we invite the community to participate.
For the following week, I light it myself each day at 4pm (except Fridays 3pm and Saturdays 6pm).
People often come to assist me or just watch while I light the kerosene lamps. Sometimes it's just me.
Today was one of those times. Or so I thought.
As I finished kindling the lights, I alighted from the ladder and began to head back to my van when a man came over to greet me.
"Are you the rabbi who lights this menorah every day?" he asked.
"Yup, that's me," I replied.
"Thank you for doing this," he said. "I'm not Jewish, but I really appreciate this. May I give you something as a token of appreciation? Please wait here for a minute." He ran to his car parked nearby and returned with a small clear-lucite box that contained a small rock glued to a miniature pedestal.
"This rock is from Dachau," he explained. "My grandfather helped liberate it in 1945. I went there several years ago to see it for myself. Please accept this rock as a keepsake. We want people to have them so that no one ever forget what happened there."
After a brief conversation, I was surprised to learn that his ninety-five-year-old grandfather and namesake, R.F. Gouley, a veteran of the U.S. Seventh Army’s 45th Infantry Division, is alive and well, and still living here in town. I asked if his grandfather might be willing to speak to groups about his experiences. He replied that his grandfather cannot speak about the horrors he witnessed, so a mere rock from the concentration camp would have to suffice.
After the obligatory selfie, he thanked me again for lighting the menorah in town, and I thanked him for teaching people about his grandfather's experiences. More importantly, I asked him to convey my deepest gratitude to his grandfather for liberating my fellow Jews who survived the horrors of the first Nazi concentration camp.

As I returned to my van clutching a rock from Dachau in one hand and my menorah lighter in the other, I couldn't help but consider the significance of this fortuitous encounter.
I felt as though the souls of the kedoshim murdered at Dachau sent me a greetings. The rock that witnessed untold horrors and darkest crimes against our people needed to bear witness to the light of our nine-foot menorah proudly illuminating the Town Common of Shrewsbury, MA. From darkness to light.
No, I'm not alone when I light the menorah. Even in snow, sleet, or subzero temperatures. It's never just me.
I am accompanied by all my ancestors from the Maccabees until modern times.
I represent my people, our past and our future, each hero and heroine who fought to live as a Jew, each martyr who died for being a Jew. They are all with me. 
I am joined by the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (R' Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn) who fearlessly fought to preserve Judaism in the dark days of Stalinist Russia.
I am accompanied by our Rebbe whom I represent here in town as his personal representative, the faithful shepherd of world Jewry who rekindled the menorah of our people from the embers of the Holocaust.
These kerosene lamps that I faithfully kindle each night are no mere "festive lights." They bear testimony to the Rock of Ages. Let that rock from Dachau witness the Rock of our Salvation, Maoz tzur y'shuati.
That's why our light is unstoppable.
That's why our light will ultimately succeed in illuminating the world, in transforming darkness to light.
Think about that when you light the menorah in your own home for the next five nights.*
It's not just you.
You are not alone.
You are part of something awesome and invincible.
You are a modern-day Maccabee.
Your light will prevail.
Happy Chanukah. Spread the light.
* Light it each night after sundown. This Friday, light it before Shabbat candles 18 minutes before sundown (4:03pm locally), and on Saturday light it after nightfall (5:08pm here).

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