Calendars and Candles
“You want it darker,” the late Leonard Cohen’s powerful song, speaks of “a million candles burning for the help that never came,” a fair reflection—though not the only one—on Jewish history. But etched into our lives this time of year are eight candles that light our lives and reflect the full spectrum of our experience as a people.
Hanukkah reminds us of many things, but this year—one of the rare years when the holiday reaches from December into January—it also highlights a creative duality of our lives. Like knowing two languages, living with two calendars makes us much more agile.
All calendars call on the people who follow them to remember certain things. Living with the Hebrew and secular calendars is like having twice as many notifications programmed into our smartphones—occasionally insistent, but ultimately helpful in organizing our lives and anchoring our identities.
The High Holidays are a time of renewal; Hanukkah is a season of rededication. January also marks a new beginning; the lives of Israeli and Diaspora Jews alike are calibrated to both calendars. Certainly many Jews make New Year’s resolutions in December (often, perhaps, affording a second chance on resolutions from Tishrei).
A few years ago, Hadassah switched to a fiscal year ending in December, which is how I became the first national president to take office not at our summer convention but on January 1. It’s hard to believe amost a year has gone by. As I lived it, it seemed to pass in an instant; only looking back can I see the accumulation of experiences that allows me to grasp that time has actually elapsed.
While I’ve had countless moments during the past year that renewed my faith in and dedication to this wonderful organization, I’ve distilled them into a representative sample of eight—one for each candle on the Hanukkah menorah.
One was my installation in Florida, presided over by past national president Carmela Kalmanson, my mentor and role model as a Hadassah leader. Her welcoming me into office touched me deeply.
Two was cutting the ribbon on the underground, state-of-the-art operating complex at Hadassah’s Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower in Jerusalem. Three was personally wheeling the first patient into the operating room just a few weeks later.
Four was hosting the inaugural congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., of the Coalition for Women’s Health Equity—a national grouping of organizations launched by Hadassah to advocate for women’s health quality, awareness, funding and supplies.
Five was a series of moments—meeting and networking with Hadassah members around the country, demonstrating the incredible wealth of wisdom and dedication our organization embraces.
Six was networking on the ultimate level—at our fabulous national convention in Atlanta, where we gathered to learn from and inspire one another.
Seven was representing Hadassah at the Jewish National Fund’s 9/11 observance—on September 11 in Jerusalem’s Arazim Valley—at the site of the only memorial outside the United States that honors the nearly 3,000 victims by name; Hadassah was the only nongovernmental organization given the honor of laying a wreath. I went directly from that ceremony—from darkness to light, from commemoration to celebration—to film a Rosh Hashanah video at our medical center, where I held a newborn baby in our nursery.
Eight was taking three generations of my family to Israel, showing them the country and the Hadassah I know so well, and also seeing it through their eyes. If Hadassah has taught me to handle simultaneously the emotions of pride and humility, that trip reinforced the lesson from a new perspective.
Notwithstanding Leonard Cohen’s sometimes bleak vision and his honored place in our culture, these moments of renewal illuminate my memory and my path forward. Like the sacred days on our calendars, these new personal holidays stand for the candles that reward faith and action.
Hanukkah sameach to all!