Monday, September 26, 2022

There is always a sense of sadness when the holiday season comes to a close. We celebrate Chanukah by consuming endless amounts of latkes, jelly doughnuts, and chocolate. We get together with family and friends as we light the menorah and remember the miracles that took place so long ago.

This time of year generally goes by in a frenzy; stores have seemingly wild hours, people from all over the country come to visit the tri-state area, and somehow everyone always seems to be rushing to prepare.

It is easy to get lost in the excitement of this season: the lights, the food, the gifts. However, when this occurs, we often lose an essential piece. I often think of my birthday in this way: As a child I adored my birthday–the gifts, the cake, a day when people greeted me with a smile and possible surprise. As I got older, and after my diagnosis, my birthday became a stressful event. I felt as if I would be let down and at one point I wasn’t even sure whether I had a future. The day was painful and full of disappointments and fear. Now, I have come to an appreciation for this day. It isn’t about the attention I can potentially receive. Nor is it about the gifts, cake, or parties. My birthday is about a celebration of my life. It is a day when I can feel appreciative for each day that I experience and live to the fullest in this world. It is a day that I spend with the people closest to me, a day when I can smile and reflect on both the good and the bad in my life. But most importantly, it is a celebration of the fact that I am still here, that my life was not taken or lost.

I approach Chanukah in much the same way; as a child I enjoyed the holiday for the gifts, the parties, and the splendor. My siblings created Chanukah games and we gathered as a family each night for candle lighting. Then, the holiday became stressful; preparing and creating and worrying about presentations and parties and the gifts I needed to get for friends. After my diagnosis, the holiday was associated with fear: the fried foods were overwhelming and I felt as if everywhere I turned I was being offered jelly doughnuts and latkes. Now, I am able to enjoy it all. I look forward to the latkes that we cook and the sugary, seasonal desserts. I also take part in parties and gift giving. But these do not really represent the true meaning of Chanukah.

Chanukah is about hope. It is about being grateful to God for the miracles and the way He saved our ancestors all those years ago. This holiday represents struggle, suffering, commitment, faith, and redemption. Remembering both miracles has brought me, and many clients with whom I work, peace of mind. I can recall a time when I felt hopeless, as if I could not be saved. And yet I held on to some semblance of hope; my parents reminded me that they believed in me, and my friends, siblings, and treatment team supported me, reminding me that they wanted me to be happy.

Chanukah is a reminder to hold onto that last drop of hope. It teaches us to commit to our beliefs and not to give up. But we are also taught to not depend on the miracle–“Ein Somchin Al HaNeis”–we must have hope and faith but not wait around for a sudden change. It is important to be active in creating change when we can.

Regarding my history, this commitment related to family, friends, religion, and a commitment to my own life. While I did not feel that I deserved to live, I committed to trying. It is not about sitting back and hoping for the best, but about trying as best we can.

It is easy to get lost in this time of year, to focus too much on the frills and the details. This often occurs in life and sometimes those frills bring us joy and excitement. But we must also be mindful to pay attention to the lessons we may learn and the potential for growth. Chanukah is not just about potato pancakes or a new toy. More importantly, it is about hope, gratitude to HaShem, and the strength of our nation. Let us reflect on these themes as we conclude this holiday season, and bring them with us as we celebrate holidays, birthdays, and the occasions from which we can reflect and grow.

By Temimah Zucker

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