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The Menorah That Lit Up My Life

The Menorah That Lit Up My Life

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Two years ago during Chanukah, two of our Baltimore events turned out for various reasons to be disappointments for us. One was a menorah lighting at Johns Hopkins University, and the other was a parade of “Mitzvah Tanks” which was supposed to cover the downtown area. Rabbi Gopin (the shliach at Hopkins) and I just accepted it for what it was, and moved on to other programs and projects. After all, even Babe Ruth didn’t always hit home runs.

Not exactly so, as you will discover in the following story, which appeared in the Jewish Press.

Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, Chabad of Maryland


Two years ago I was in Baltimore on business, and happened to pass by the public menorah in front of Johns Hopkins University just as the first light was being lit. My eyes welled with tears. Although I was raised a secular Jew, my family has always celebrated Chanukah. To be away from my family that first night of the holiday felt cold and lonely. Now, seeing the lights of the first night’s flames of that big menorah, my heart lit up also, and I felt the warmth of my people all around me.

The next day I was walking by the waterfront, and a young man in a black hat ran up to me and politely asked, “Excuse me, are you Jewish?” Somewhat surprised that anyone would care, I answered in the affirmative.

“Do you know that it’s the second night of Chanukah tonight?” he asked earnestly.

I nodded.

“Do you have a menorah?” he inquired, looking a bit anxious.

“No,” I replied.

“Do you want one?” he asked hopefully.

“Do you have one?” I asked, almost shouting with joy.

“Yes, I’ll get you one!” he replied, almost as excited as I.

He ran off, and returned moments later with an entire menorah kit in a box: little brass candleholder, box full of the right number of candles, and complete instructions. Also a DVD full of Chanukah stories, how-tos, even recipes. I politely declined the offer of a doughnut (fried foods are traditional on Chanukah, but I have to pace myself), and raced off to my hotel room to examine the contents of the box and watch the DVD.

Childhood memories of Chanukah lights, my father telling stories of the Maccabees, the miracle of how one day’s worth of oil somehow lasted for eight days . . . it all came flooding back. I knew I had been given a gift that Chanukah in Baltimore: the gift of the return of Judaism to my life, and of my life to Judaism.

All this because of a menorah on the steps of a public institution. And all because I “happened” to be passing by that day, and the flame of the menorah ignited the spark that had been sleeping in my Jewish heart for nearly 50 years.

When I returned to Seattle the following week, I called a rabbi for the first time in my life. I told him what the menorah in Baltimore had stirred in me. Over the next two years, with his wise and gentle guidance, I found my way as a fully observant Jew. The spark that was rekindled by a public menorah is now a steady burning flame.

How grateful I am to live in a country that is founded on the right to worship as we choose, in the manner in which we choose. I thank our founding fathers who crafted the Constitution of the United States of America, which recognizes our freedom to express and practice our religion. And I thank those who have the courage, in these sometimes dark times, to defend those rights.

We never know how many hearts and lives are touched and, yes, even transformed by the sight of the miraculous Chanukah lights, shining into the darkest reaches and reminding us of miracles long ago and not so long ago.

All those selfless souls whose courage and staunch commitment fuel the kindling of light the world over deserve our heartfelt gratitude. I know they have mine.

Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Press

Dr. Laura P. Schulman, MD, is a physician/musician living in Jerusalem.
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Anonymous congo November 24, 2013

That was an inspiring story. I was very touched by it. Reply

Deborah Eltis November 23, 2013

hanucha Years ago when my mother lived alone in Montreal, on the first day of Hanucha come students from the rabbinical college of Canada to her apartment with a menorah and lit the candles with her.

For my mother this was priceless! I called than the rabbinical college and thank them. Reply

H. Aber North Miami Beach November 21, 2013

light a candle You never fully know the far reaching effect of a mitzvah. Sometimes we are lucky to get a glimpse of the ripple effect. I am always telling my students that each mitzvah we do is a treasure that lasts forever. Reply

Anonymous November 20, 2013

How beautiful I received my first menorah on the streets of Toronto. It's amazing how special that moment is. Reply

sylvia November 19, 2013

i can feel all the love just reading this warms me - my heart swells and my eyes tear.... both reactions coming from my neshama - my neshama shared with the neshama of the author and all those who commented. (we are all one neshama) I think this is why we react so emotionally - when we feel united as ONE it has amazing positive effects on us.
thanks so much for sharing and may you have the ability to continue to inspire!!

Happy Chanukah!! Reply

Anonymous Kanata November 18, 2013

How charming it has been to have read this story as we approach the cold and dark of winter. Thank you so much for sharing. It's funny, but little tokens that are heartfelt gifts can remain as meaningful icons full of joyous memory for our whole lives. Baltimore must be a very generous place. Reply

Ron Faulk Leesburg, Fl. December 15, 2012

chanukah I was adopted at birth. I was circumcised, but was raised in a christian family. I was given a sign to follow. I followed it for years, but Judaism taught me to read it. I still have trouble with the letters, but the numbers are easier...I know 1, and I know 8. Chanukah has taught me a lot about 8. Your story strikes a chord within me. Knowing others have walked this path gives me the courage to continue. I really mean it!! THANK YOU!!! Reply

Daniel Masri Modiin December 15, 2012

Hometown shout ou! Shout out to my former hometown Baltimore! I certainly can relate to your amazing outreach that took me one step closer to our homeland Israel and my city of the Macabee's Modiin. Thank You Baltimore and to my Chevrusa's. Reply

suri katz December 14, 2012

Dr. Schulman, you too have inspired all of us lamplighters to continue spreading Torah to the world. Today is my birthday, so I will bless you that Hashem should bless you with everything that your heart desires. May you desire everything that He desires. May you be blessed with an abundance of wealth spiritually and materially. Have a wonderful Shabbos Chanukah. Reply

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