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During ‘The Feast of Lights’ be Mindful of Conservation


By Barbara Lerman-Golomb, COEJL Executive Director

Think Hanukkah. Think light. Think energy.

Today we can bring new meanings to the celebration of Hanukkah related to our use of energy, conservation, and our moral responsibility to protect the environment and all its inhabitants.

When better to think about energy and light than during winter when the darkest days of the year are upon us?

Think Maccabees. Think miracles. Think freedom.

Think of the miracle of Hanukkah: how a small band of citizens, led by the tenacious Judah the Maccabee (“The Hammer”), was able, more than 2,000 years ago, to defeat the oppressive Syrian emperor, Antiochus, in a fight for religious freedom.

Think of how we as American citizens can change the way energy is produced in this country. Think of how we can break free of our dependence on foreign oil. In these challenging times, reducing our dependence on oil can help us address global warming and strengthen our national security.

Think renewal of faith. Think renewable energy.

As the story goes, once the Maccabees were triumphant, they returned to the pagan-desecrated Temple and found only one cruse (a small jar) of ritual olive oil remaining. The oil – used to keep the ner tamid (the eternal light) burning – was enough to burn for only one day. It would take eight days to prepare ritually permitted oil. Yet when that little bit of oil remaining in the jar was lit, it miraculously burned for eight days.

How long will our oil last? How long can we depend on non-renewable, noxious fossil fuels?

In “Matter of Spirit: The Gift of Genesis,” Rabbi Everett Gendler points out that olive oil which once fueled the ner tamid, the eternal light, is a renewable source coming from an olive tree and is “perpetually renewed or replanted.” But now most ner tamids depend on polluting, finite sources of electricity which are not eternal at all. As Rabbi Gendler suggests, a solar ner tamid would truly be eternal. What a beacon of hope and sustainability it would be.

What if as a nation we invested in creating clean, healthy, renewable energy alternatives and offered incentives for energy efficiency? What if we encouraged congregations to take other energy-saving measures such as assessing their energy use through an energy audit, putting solar panels on the roof, choosing renewable energy sources, purchasing Energy Star appliances, investing in motion sensors, and switching from regular light bulbs to cost effective and energy efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs? We need to take these kinds of creative actions to “green” our synagogues as well as our homes.

The unity of creation is a crucial concept in Judaism, as is the concept that there are consequences for all actions – consequences affecting humans, animals, and natural resources. We need to find ways to turn our Jewish principles into action.

But for many, the notion of solving an entire global crisis can be overwhelming. That’s why the second century sage Rabbi Tarfon teaches in Pirke Avot ,“It is not your obligation to complete the task (of perfecting the world); neither are you free to desist from it.”

To help begin the task, “Let There Be (Renewable) Light: A New Look at Hanukkah” offers hands-on resource materials for synagogues, schools, youth groups, families, adults, rabbis, and community activists.

Hanukkah means dedication. So think rededication. Think preservation. Think of the self-preservation of humanity and of preservation of the planet. Think of rededicating ourselves, like the Maccabees, to the cause of sustaining our very existence.

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