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The Shining Light
There is a Hebrew prayer that goes something like this: Blessed are You, One who commands Your people to kindle the light. Tradition tells us this is because even in the darkest of times, the light illuminates the world. Everything is shone through this light, everything that is good, bad, light and dark. The brave souls, the ones who stand up for their beliefs, and the people who give their lives so others can live represent the good and light side of this world. The horrors of this world and the good men who do nothing represent the evil and dark side.
A young boy walks into his home to the warm, inviting smell of challah. He sees his family for the first time today. As he enters, it quickly becomes obvious that this child is not at all satisfied. He will neither eat nor talk. When asked how his day was, he merely shrugs his shoulders unconvincingly. He stays silent throughout most of the time he is home. It is only when the family strikes the match to light the Sabbath candles that the boy finally speaks. He starts off sobbing uncontrollably, and then begins to tell of the atrocities that occurred on this particular Friday at school.
Throughout history, the Jews have been “deported” from virtually every European country. From the first century C.E., where Judaism was prohibited by their Roman conquers, to the 1990’s with the Soviet Union denying the Jewish people their rights and exiling many, Jews have been considered outcasts for millennium. They have been forced not only out of other countries, but forced to disperse from their own as well. An example of this is when the Romans captured Jerusalem. Before this time,
the Jewish people were able to call their homeland sacred. It was a place where one who wished to study Judaism could do so freely. However, after they were conquered, this was no longer possible. The Jewish people were set apart from the Roman by means of segregation. They have been segregated by many other ethnic groups in history and probably will continue to be into the future.
Today is seemingly a day like any other for the 7th grade boys, except for one boy. This boy stands out among his peers, known for being “different”. He is, in fact, just like any of the other boys. He loves sports, he takes a fondness towards girls, and he enjoys hanging out with his guy friends. However, he is set apart by his religion. He is Jewish. Instead of wearing a cross, like many of his friends do, he instead puts on a Mogen David, the star of his ancestors. He wears it proudly; seemingly unknowing of the pain it will cause him. It will be today that he will find out what it truly means to be Jewish.
From 1480 through 1834, the Spanish Inquisition tormented the lives and forbade the traditions of the Jewish people. During this time, they were “tried” for their faith. If they converted to Christianity, they were safe. However, if they refused, they were burned at the stake. It was a system that promoted ultimate failure either path the Marranos, or Spanish Jews, chose. The definition of Marrano is equivalent to pig. The Spanish considered the Jews filthy, dirty creatures that needed to find the light to Christianity. The Jewish people were repulsed at such notions. The word Marrano was more than just degrading the Jewish people. It was an outright disgrace. The Jewish people have laws forbidding one to eat pig. The Spanish knew this, and tortured the Jews by forcing pig into their mouths.
Today this boy will be tried for his faith, not quite in the way his ancestors did 500 years ago. However, he will have to endure blows to his people directed specifically at him. While he may not have to lose his home or his life or a loved one’s life, he still faces a significant roadblock of faith that he must hurdle. Seventy years ago, a horrible event occurred for the Jewish people. In Germany, a regime known as the Nazi party seized control. Under their leader, Adolph Hitler, they set up concentration camps. Camps designed to kill. One of their main targets was the Jewish people of the area. Their goal: to wipe out 12 million Jews in Europe. They almost succeeded. In the course of 10 years, they stripped these people of their citizenship, shoved them outside of the community, branded them with tattoos of a number (of which would be their only identification) and massacred 6 million of them. Reasons as to why the Nazis performed these acts have been debated for years. Some may have wanted the glory Hitler offered. Others may have merely had a bad personal encounter with the Jews. However, one thing is quite clear: their intent to destroy a race that has endured for a millennium was strong. So strong, in fact, that even today the symbol of the Nazis remains burned into the minds of the Jewish people. That symbol is known as the swastika.
While the boy went through with a seemingly normal day, he thought about his religion. Today was Shabbat, and he was looking forward to saying the prayers. This boy was oblivious to many things, during this time, however, he snapped back to reality at lunch time. Someone had engraved a swastika on his lunchbox. The boy was reminded of all the horrible events that had occurred to his people. While he was proud of them, he was also scared that he might meet the same fate. He hated the person or people who had inscribed such a thing on his lunchbox, and only wished he could find out who had done it. He need not wait long to find out, for later that day, he caught a group of children performing a salute to Hitler. He was shocked to find one of his friends among the group. He found himself feeling excluded, unwanted, the way his people had felt for millennium. And the worst was still yet to come.
There once was a grand temple in Jerusalem (the first synagogue in Jerusalem), that caused any non-Jew who looked upon it to be jealous of the Jewish people. As a result, in 583 B.C.E it was burned to
the ground by the Babylonians, who later conquered Jerusalem itself. When the Babylonians were
expelled from Jerusalem, the temple was rebuilt, this time with a defensive wall. This defensive wall was not protective enough, for in 70 C.E. the Romans destroyed the Temple for the second time, leaving only the Western Wall standing.
The family of the Jewish boy turns on the news for a brief second before starting Shabbat. The high for today was 87, the weatherman says, and the family settles down to watch. Then, suddenly, the anchorwoman comes on with breaking news. She tells of a fire set on a religious building earlier this evening. While the fire is out, she says, the damage done was somewhat severe. As the family watches, it dawns on each individual that this building is not just a religious building, it is their synagogue. They are crestfallen. Yet life goes on for the family, and as it is Shabbat, the holiest of holidays, the family keeps their tradition and faith alive by proceeding to kindle the Sabbath lights.
The Jewish people have remained strong, despite all of the hardships they have gone through. Sometimes they rebel from powerful tyrants, as in the time when the Romans captured Jerusalem. It would be here that many tragic lives would be lost, on the battlefield, yet the Jews persevered and regained Jerusalem. Sometimes they would continue their practices in secret, learning of their religion under penalty of death. This occurred under the Greeks as well as the Spanish. And sometimes they would die for their people, to no gain other than strengthening the Jewish faith. There are many martyrs like this told of in history. Yet they always find some way to keep their religion, their faith, their lifestyle alive.
As the family lights the candles, the boy is reminded of the unity of his people. He remembers the stories that have been handed down from generation to generation of the suffering of his people, and how they have survived despite great odds against them. As he looks into the original flame, he is reminded of the beginning of Judaism, with his ancestors: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As he covers his
eyes, he is reminded of the hardships of his people since that time. As he chants the blessing over the candles, he is reminded of the tradition that his people have kept, even through darkness. As he uncovers his eyes, he dreams of a better future for his people, a day that he believes will come. After he is through, he is overcome with the words he just uttered over the candles, and begins to cry. Blessed are You, One who commands Your people to kindle the light. Amen.