Yachad: A Warm and Shining Light
“There are 75 families living in our building, and the last time we all gathered together was in the bomb shelter during the war,” says Yavneh resident Odelia Ben-Yaakov. “It was a pleasure to be brought together now in celebration; to celebrate life and the Jewish people.”
Ben-Yaakov was one of thousands of Israelis across Israel this Chanukah who were brought together by their community center’s Yachad facilitator in the “Binyan Shelanu Madlik” initiative. Literally meaning “Our Building Lights ,” the project’s title also implies “Our Building Illuminates,” and captures the feeling of camaraderie that arose from the residents’ joint celebration of their shared heritage.
“When you entered the lobby the excitement was palpable,” says Dudu Lederberg, whose family participated in “Our Building Lights” in one of the luxury hi-rises of Netanya. “I have never met most of the other residents, but while we stood around the candles, with the kids learning to play dreidel in the background, we felt like one big family, strong and united,” he shares.
Sharing the Light
As with all Yachad programming, facilitators tailored the initiative to their respective communities: in some places competitions for the best picture were held, others had magicians, holiday trivia games, or Chanukah crafts for the kids, and buildings with primarily adult populations were provided with guest lecturers on relevant subjects. All of the participating buildings received Yachad kits containing a menorah and candles, a page with the blessings and their explanations, suggestions for songs and games, dreidels and, of course, the obligatory jelly doughnuts.
“When we heard about Yachad’s photo competition we were inspired to take part,” says Gilo resident Ayala Mizrahi. “We huddled in the entrance of the building and, despite the bitter cold, the warmth of the Chanukah candles entered our hearts. That’s what this Chanukah was all about – sharing the light.”
“The Candle that Connects”
Another Yachad initiative, the longstanding “Ner Mechaber,” (meaning “The Candle that Connects”), unites Israeli families from different sides of the religious or cultural spectrum for candle-lighting and Chanukah-related activities.
“The idea is to harness the special light of Chanukah to make connections between different people and opposing ideas,” explains Aryeh Engleman, Yachad facilitator in Petach Tikva.
“We were nervous when we first entered our hosts’ home,” admitted Yona Weiss of Azur. “But once we lit the candles and sang the familiar holiday songs together, the sense of hesitation disappeared. I was touched to see my seven-year-old singing songs that my grandmother used to sing, and that I had long forgotten about.”
“Each guest brings their own light with them,” said Sara Elmaliah who, along with her husband and five children hosted the Shahafs, another family from Hod Hasharon. “I’ve seen Chanukah candle-lighting before, but I’d never actually lit the candles myself,” shared Raz, the father of the Shahaf family. “It stirred something deep inside of me; something similar to that sense of coming home.”
The Light Brigade
In several communities, Yachad facilitators launched a new initiative designed to bring the light of Chanukah to home-bound seniors and hospital patients. The “Light Brigades” were comprised of leaders and counselors from the local youth groups, who were specially trained by their Yachad facilitators before embarking upon their mission.
“We brought together secular and religious teens for joint study about the central themes and values of Chanukah, then sent them out to live Judaism and exemplify Jewish values together,” explains Acco facilitator Amichai Cohen.
“In one of the homes that we visited, a woman sat alone in her living room. You could tell that she was starved for conversation and company, and you could see we really made a difference in her life,” reported sixteen-year-old Daniel Revivo.
Revivo’s friend, Nofar Levy, wrote: “I consider myself very secular, not at all connected to the holidays. But I feel that I truly merited to discover an amazing connection to Judaism, Jewish traditions and Jewish values.”
The Light of the Heroes
Yachad’s newest Chanukah initiative took place this year against the backdrop of the fires that ravaged the country throughout the month of December: Called “Giborim Madlikim”- literally, Heroes Light the Candles – the project honored Israel’s firefighters for their bravery and dedication.
“Chanukah is all about the Maccabees, who rose to a great challenge facing the nation and are thus remembered as heroes,” explains Bat Yam facilitator Roi Peretz. “Our firefighters display great courage and dedication as they protect the people and country of Israel, and for this we recognize them every day, and especially on the Festival of Lights,” he says.
Says Arad facilitator Sharon Fengeleh: “The project provided another way of showing Israelis that Judaism – and its history, traditions and values – remain relevant from generation to generation. We are constantly striving, year-round, to protect and nourish the Jewish flame and share its warmth and light with everyone.”