Rabbi Nina Mizrahi is the Rabbi and Director of JCC Chicago’s Pritzker Center for Jewish Education. You can read her weekly Shabbat messages at http://www.gojcc.org Here’s what she wrote for Chanukah:
How is it possible that, on the day of the eve of Chanukah, a major chain grocery store in the Chicagoland area, would have absolutely no candles, dreidels, gelt or any of the other Chanukah “chochkies ” one would expect to find?! When I asked a clerk, she, with a blank look on her face, just shrugged. I just couldn’t let this go, so I went in search of the manager.
Explaining my disappointment, he first gave me a blank look. Then, he suggested I look in the kosher aisle. Really?! At a time when grocery stores are responding to the demand for better quality food, the kosher aisle of most grocery stores is pitiful, at best. One wonders why .
Perhaps now that so many items carry an kosher heksher or there are grocery stores catering to kosher clients, we don’t need the kosher aisle. The truth is there was a time when a kosher aisle was an affirmation that Jews live in the community. Even if one did not keep kosher, it represented visibility in the secular world. But now, it looks worn and dusty, failing to exude the joy of living a Jewish life.
When I pushed a little further, he said the following, “Well, we haven’t unpacked all of our Christmas items yet,,,,” In complete disbelief that in this day and age one would have no awareness of Chanukah (maybe I expect too much), I replied, “But, Chanukah starts tonight. ” I couldn’t help myself from continuing, “Do you think there are no Jews in this area?!”
Then came his final comment, “I haven’t been working here that long, and so…….”
In truth, I cannot put all the blame on the non-Jewish community. After all, whose job is it to convey the message that living a Jewish life, whether as a secular,cultural, movement-identifed, post-denominational, pan-denomination or bu-jew, is valuable? Clearly we live in a time of great change. The relevance of all secular and religious institutions is being questioned. We are in a transition between 20th century and 21st century thinking about Jewish identity. Many are placing their hopes in the 20-30 somethings, trying to entice them through innovation, social networking and a myriad of “cool” program venues. Change is good, and necessary if Judaism is going to speak to a generation the likes of which we have never seen. Some say, they are a testimony to our successful assimilation as Americans. Others recognize that one of the biggest challenges the Jewish world faces is that we don’t know how to “market” Judaism. Change should not be about uprooting a rich heritage. Rather, it should result from an invitation to engage in a process of transformation to build a community that matters and a faith/culture/peoplehood that embraces who we are today. By accepting this challenge, we participate in growing the continuum of vibrant Jewish life – a sacred responsibility placed upon every Jew in every generation. This is the meaning of freedom.
To expect another , including non-Jews, to take this on, is to contribute to the diminishment of what has endured for thousands of years – a Jewish life built upon a set of values, ethics, and behaviors, which demand our participation in healing a broken world through the pursuit of peace, love and kindness. All of our texts, rituals and guideposts for behavior lead in this direction. Unless people choose to get back on the path, born Jews, Jews-by-choice, non-Jews married to Jews, we will be in trouble. It is not about numbers. It is about understanding that the eternal flame of Judaism burns bright only as long as we keep it lit.
Chag Urim Sameach!