Mi yimalel gevurot Yisrael: who can retell the things that befell us. This popular Chanukah song has recently become my family’s favorite. We compete to see who can sing it the fastest and the loudest. Moments like these have defined Chanukah for me since I was born. It has always been about making sufganiyot, lighting the chanukiah, singing fun songs and spending time with family. This has always been enough for me, but this year I decided I want more. I want to understand the lesson of the Chanukah story and how I can live by it every day.
The second verse of mi yimalel states, “Maccabi moshia u’fode,” which means brave Maccabeus led the faithful band. Judah Maccabee stood up for being Jewish, persevered when fighting against the Syrian Greeks and rose to victory; now that is a story I can work with. This teaches us that no matter how small we are, or young we are, we can make a difference in this world.
Ever since I was little, I have been taught to give back to my community. At Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake, we had an acronym, MADIMOW, “making a difference in my own way.” Every summer, we would do a volunteer trip, and I always felt like I was making a difference, even though I was just a kid.
Inspired by my Jewish community’s value of social action, I started a club at my school called Baking for a Change. Just like Judah Maccabee, I had to persevere in order to get this club started. The teachers at my school did not think it would be possible, but I fought hard until my club was created, and finally, last year, it was. I am passionate about hunger and immigration issues in this country and decided to do something about it. Every week, we make treats that we donate to a local homeless shelter. Additionally, we organize baking activities at Abbott House, a temporary home for refugee children. Even though there is a language barrier, we are able to enjoy each other’s company and provide the children with a fun baking experience.
Judah Maccabee stood up for being Jewish. I practice Jewish values by showing my support for immigrants and people who are hungry. In this way, I feel more connected to my Jewish identity and have found a deeper meaning when celebrating Chanukah. But, what can I do next? Being a senior in high school, I need to make sure that my club continues to grow when I am gone. I can be a leader in my community, but every good leader needs followers. I understand that I need to find teens who are also passionate about helping the hungry, in order to continue the work I have started. I am sure Judah Maccabee also had to think about how to make sure the Jewish community continued to grow. In my next stage of life, I hope to continue standing up for what I believe in and finding the Judah Maccabee in me. Although Chanukah is now over, I encourage you and your family to discuss ways you can stand up for issues you are passionate about and find the Judah Maccabee in all of you.
Liora Reiken is a senior at White Plains High School. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.