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Musing for Meaning

My Chanukah Gift

My Chanukah Gift


I love airports. I really do. I love the excitement of going someplace new, or better yet, returning home. It is one of the few places where everyone is there for a specific reason, with a destination and goal.

Fortunately, I get to spend a lot of time in airports because of my travel schedule for speaking. But recently I took a very rare trip, a pleasure trip (I feel guilty even saying it), with my second-to-oldest daughter. It was a special mother-daughter bonding experience, where we flew to California to spend time with close friends and visit the happiest place on earth—yes oh yes, Disneyland. (Undoubtedly, you will be hearing more about this.)

Every time I pass a man or woman in uniform, I am humbledAnd even though we went in November, we were blessed with an early Chanukah present. No, not the trip, which most definitely counts for an enormous gift in its own right. But a true present. The present of being present for a moving, beautiful, powerful experience of gratitude and appreciation. A present that really is what Chanukah is all about. Acknowledgement.

Now, I don’t know about you, but every time I pass a man or woman in uniform, I am humbled. Having lived in Israel for many years, seeing soldiers was a constant source of pride and awareness that these men and women were dedicating their young lives to help keep mine safe. Since in the States, where I now live, the site of a soldier in uniform is pretty rare, now when I see a soldier I am filled with emotion.

And it was no different when we went to our gate and found ourselves sitting next to an airman in the United States Air Force. Not sure what to say, I awkwardly thanked him for his service. And then, being the nosy person that I am, I asked him some more questions. Where was he stationed? Where was he going? How much longer did he have to serve?

Turns out he was on his way to New Jersey for a month of training before leaving for Afghanistan. Turns out this is his last tour of duty, and G‑d willing, he will return safe and sound in six months. Turns out he doesn’t have much family other than a brother and sister-in-law, also in the service, who are due with their first baby in a few weeks. And he won’t be there.

As we spoke, another passenger approached, stated he was heading to Starbucks, and asked the soldier if he wanted anything. He politely declined. Moments later, another traveler sat next to the soldier. And a repeat of my very questions from his end ensued.

And then, what happened next blew my mind.

The guy nonchalantly asked him where he was sitting. He pulled out his boarding pass to check. Without skipping a beat, the guy says, “Here, why don’t we switch,” and proceeds to hand him his first-class ticket.

Now remember, this is a red-eye flight. You know, the one that leaves at 10 PM and gets in at 6 AM? A mid-workweek flight, getting my fellow travelers to Philadelphia just in time for a full workday? Yeah, that one. And yet, without the least hesitation, he handed over his first-class ticket to sit as a sardine with the rest of the packed flight.

Now, what moved me was not just the generosity of his act, but the immediacy of it. The fact that it came so naturally. As if it was no big deal. More so, with the air of “how could he not?” A soldier. Someone dedicating his life for ours. Someone sacrificing. Who better to sit in first class? Who more deserving?

We had just witnessed an act of selflessness presented to the selflessMy daughter and I sat there with tears in our eyes. We had just witnessed an act of selflessness presented to the selfless. An act of acknowledgement and awareness and gratitude.

As we head into Chanukah, this is the gift I am giving my children. I want them to have the ability to recognize the blessings in their lives and to be able to offer their thanks to those around them. In our home, we don’t give gifts on Chanukah. (Don’t feel bad for my children; I assure you they get plenty at other times in the year.) We don’t give gifts, for the gift of Chanukah is the gift. Recognizing that we were saved, that the few overcame the many, that just a little bit of oil and light can last and outshine so much darkness—that is the gift of Chanukah. Seeing the miracles in our lives is the gift.

We live in a world where so much of our daily news is about the negative, the evil in our midst. But Chanukah is the time when we stop, when we not only bring light into our homes, but illuminate the world around us as well. We add in this light, night by night, increasing our awareness with each wick. And as we watch our dancing flames, we say the blessing to witness the miracles all around us, and even more so, the miracles within each and every one of us.

I doubt that this man had any idea how moved the soldier was by his action. He certainly had no idea how much he moved me and my daughter. He simply did the right thing at the right time. And that simplicity was what was so powerful. He added a bit of light to the darkness. And he ignited flames that will continue to illuminate and light others.

(And I wish he could only know the impression he made, because later we saw him on the plane. He was stuck in a middle seat near a crying baby!)

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, Mi/USA December 21, 2011

There is a person in my area (I don't know who exactly) who can afford to pay 1st class for all his (frequent) flights. He finds out what that would cost, and then flys on the cheapest ticket he can find. He donates the difference to charity. This is truely making himself uncomfortable in order to give, and he does it many times. I heard the story from a rabbi, who will not tell who it is. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma December 21, 2011

My Chanukah Gift is from G_d. For some reason, and I can't quite describe why it is, I feel there's a gift coming my way, in fact, already here. And I come to these pages, because I do not have to argue the existence of G_d here. I am at home in ways maybe not so hard to describe, though I am not Orthodox. Sometimes it's very hard to carry a very special candle in one's hand and to have nobody else see it, because it's not a modern thing, even in some enlightened Jewish circles to ever mention G_d. People shrug and think me strange.

Thank You Chabad for this, and thank you Esther, for your wonderful writings.

I think, deeply, for us all, it's got to be about LOVE or else, why are we here? And I think for those who do not believe in G_d it could be, they must believe, in LOVE. Because this I know and that is, LOVE powers this world.

Maybe all you need is, LOVE.

Happy Chanukah, to all who come here, to learn, to discuss, and to disagree. Because it's all part of that fire that is totally Divine. Reply

Emily Chicago December 20, 2011

Love it! Thanks so much. May the light continue to shine in your life and all those around you. Reply

Teresa Glass Chatsworth, CA December 20, 2011

Best chanukah ever Several years ago, I was working ast a school district office as a library clerk. I was the only Jewess in the building. Our head custodian for the buidling was African American. he told us at work that someone broke into his mother's house and stole her Christmas tree and Christmas presents. I felt bad about that. At our holiday party, I won a living Christmas tree. Everyone at my table wanted me to give it to them but I refused. i gave it to the custodian, tole him to take the tree to his mother, and wish her a happy Holiday for me. He was happy. The next day on my desk I found two coffeemugs wishing me a Happy Hanukah and some candy. It was from him. Helping him made it the best Chanukah ever. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma December 20, 2011

this is beautiful! Maybe, he was stuck in a seat beside a crying baby for a reason we cannot fathom, but there is surely some humor in this too. As we all smile, just a little, knowing how THAT is.

You are very sensitive and so attuned to the environment and what happens around you, and I am sure your children benefit from your exquisite sensitivity. We need more sensitivity in this world!

I love everything you wrote in this most glowing piece which too, is its own candle.

I put my menorah in the window, where the lights seem to reflect endlessly ito the garden and beyond, and I think it's that way, with beacons, how we light the way for each other, and what also beckons.

Thank You This is Wonderful! Reply

Doris Jaffe San Diego, CA/USA December 20, 2011

Chanukah Treasure Thank you for this heartwarming story. I, too, show appreciation for our military. I'm on a committee bringing free concerts to San Diego every summer. We usually feature four military bands. I hug as many band members as possible and thank them for serving our country. In Israel I hugged all the IDF soldiers, took polaroid pictures of them (1988) and gave it to them. The Ethiopian soldiers had never seen pictures develop instantly. I don't speak Hebrew fluently and some of them didn't speak much English but we understood each other perfectly with a hug and a smile. Reply

JDV December 18, 2011

Hannukah story That should be printed in a mainstream newspaper ASAP. Reply

Anonymous December 18, 2011

I was really moved. The story remind me of onething, 'A light to world'. Reply

Marcia Merion, PA December 18, 2011

What a beautiful story! I think that the most important lesson we can instill upon our children is to be generous of themselves. Think of how different the world would be if more people had this in their hearts. Reply

Shoshi Cohen Wynnewood, Pa December 18, 2011

wow beautiful & powerful!! thanks! Reply

viviana Lincoln December 18, 2011

so he didn't accept the first class ticket? Reply

Hadass Oren Douek buffalo, ny December 18, 2011

Wow! So amazing. I got emotional. You always have such inspiring stories! This story inspires power to pass on such gratitude and love to others! Reply

Jessica Klein Levenbrown Scottsville, VA December 18, 2011

thank you Thank you for your Chanukah gift to us. Reply

Lisa Diamond Stein Fort Myers, FL December 18, 2011

Beautiful story Reply

Gitel Chana Levin NEW HAVEN, Connecticut December 18, 2011

A real gift That article was the best Channukah gift. Thank you for reminding me that the true gift is bringing Torah values into our everyday lives. Reply

Nosson Beijing, PRC December 18, 2011

Wow Great Story,
This Hanukkah I will give envelopes to my Children inside giving them opportunities to spen more quality time with us.. going out to pizza etc...
And to spend time helping and caring for others. Reply

rena tzfat December 18, 2011

wow really impressive Reply

Every situation we find ourselves in is a lesson waiting to be learned. That is what this blog is about. From the people I meet, the places I go and the experiences I have, stories emerge, each teaching me something that I hope you will find useful for your life as well.
Sara Esther CrispeSara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.