I had a choice to make. Either drive the 90 miles to see my family, or go look for an extra bulb. My workday was over, and I certainly wasn’t looking for more work. Now ought to be my time off, when I could drive from the New York City hospital and rehabilitation center where I worked as a recreation therapist, to the warmth of loved ones in my home city of Philadelphia.

“Go home, Alan,” a voice was telling me. “You’ve done enough.”

But there was something wrong in what I was seeing. In what I had been seeing for the last number of days.

There was something wrong in what I was seeingIn front of me was an electric menorah, with an orange glowing shamash bulb and seven other bulbs radiating with light. For the first seven days of Chanukah, before leaving late in the afternoon, I would turn the bulbs so that they would glow, adding one more for each day. It was the least I could do. In this hospital, which was ostensibly a nursing home, there were about 1,000 residents, of which around 10 percent were Jewish.

Walking through this hospital, which was about a city block long, it seemed there were at least a couple of dozen (maybe more) brightly decorated trees and other ornaments for the December 25th event. But for the hundred Jews or so, the only recognition of the holiday of Chanukah was this one small electric menorah, which was in the recreation room on the first floor at the extreme right end of the building. There would be no lighting with oil or candles, as that was deemed a fire violation.

This is why it became so important to me that these menorah lights should shine bright. And that the residents, all too many of whom had dementia and other age-related memory impairments, would have a visual cue that this holiday of religious self-expression and joy was upon them.

Thankfully, I was able to organize a Chanukah party. But that was only for an hour or two, and the holiday is around 192 hours long.

My menorah lighting worked like a charm—until the aforementioned night, when I was planning to drive to Philadelphia. I turned all the bulbs on, and when I get to the yet-to-be-used eighth one, it gave off no light. My rational side told me that a shamash and seven lit bulbs was good too. But there was another side of me that was saying that so much has been taken away from these people with this meager acknowledgment of Chanukah, and that so much has been taken away from them by their loss of memory, that I wanted them to have the correct number of lit bulbs. They deserved at least that much.

So I took the long walk down the hallway to the main exit, and made my way into the cold, dark night, hoping to find somehow, some way, one electric bulb that would work for this menorah. As I opened my car door, some doubt began to creep in. “What if you don’t find the bulb? Would all this effort have been worth it?”

I put those thoughts aside and, as I pulled out of the hospital parking lot, I made my plan. I would drive about a mile and a half to an avenue with a lot of commercial establishments, and look for a hardware store. About ten minutes later I found such a store, but they didn’t have that bulb. I asked if they knew of another place, and a sales clerk said “no.”

I rationalized that I had made an effort, that there was nothing more to be doneI rationalized that I had made an effort, that there was nothing more to be done, and that it was time to head for Philadelphia. But then I had a thought: “There’s an Orthodox synagogue about five blocks away. Maybe they would have that bulb.” So I drove there, knowing that the prayer service was already finished and that there might not be anyone still in the building.

As I pulled up to the synagogue, I saw the ten or twelve men who had been there for afternoon prayers—mostly retired gentlemen—filing out of the synagogue. I certainly wasn’t going to ask them to go back in on a cold night and look for a bulb. My only hope was that there was still someone inside the synagogue. I parked and came to the door. If it were locked, that would be it. Everything has its limits.

I was very grateful when the door opened. Although most of the lights were out, there was still one light left on in the entrance hallway, and one in the sanctuary. “Hello,” I said. “Anybody here?” A few moments later the sanctuary light went out and the door opened, and Morris Gallant, a man I’d say who was in his mid-70s, came out toward me.

“Happy Chanukah, Mr. Gallant,” I said, shaking his hand. “Happy Chanukah, Alan,” he replied. “What brings you here? The service is already over.”

“I know that,” I replied. Then I explained about the bulb I was looking for. He laughed and said, “We don’t use electric menorahs. We use oil.”

“Okay,” I replied. “It was worth a shot.”

As I walked to the door to exit, I thought of all the time I had wasted in this unsuccessful venture. “I could have been at the Verrazano Bridge by now.”

I opened the door and felt the cold air of the dark night upon me. Then I heard Mr. Gallant’s voice. “Wait a minute,” he said. There was something hopeful in his tone. “I think we had an electric menorah here about 20 years ago.”

“Really,” I said, coming back into the synagogue.

“We may have stored it downstairs.”

Before I could say another word, he went and found a flashlight and handed it me. “Shine that as I walk down the steps.” I was happy to help, but I didn’t see any steps. To my surprise, Mr. Gallant opened a trapdoor in the floor, and began to gingerly walk down steps that appeared more like the rungs of a ladder. I guided him to the best of my ability with the light of the flashlight.

I heard him moving around down there, but couldn’t see him anymore, and I hoped that the light I was sending down there was helping him.

I heard boxes being moved around, then a voice . . . “I don’t see it.”

I encouraged him to come up, but he would have none of it. And at that moment, I realized how beautiful it was what he was doing. And that something good had to come out of this—even if we didn’t find the bulbs. Just that he would make such an effort for people he had never met warmed my heart. Looking for light, and wanting light, and not giving in to darkness, is a victory in and of itself.

Then I heard his triumphant words. “I found it! The menorah!"Even if the Maccabees had not found that pure cruse of oil, the fact that they were looking for it in a desecrated Temple was an act of faith.

Then I heard his triumphant words. “I found it! The menorah!”

The sound of a box being opened, the sound of him moving things around in the box, thankfully gave way to him saying, “I found the bulbs!”

In a few moments he was on his way up. He was holding a brown paper bag, and there was a look of joy on his face that comes when a person knows they beat the odds to accomplish something.

However, he was very realistic. “There are nine bulbs in here,” he said. “I don’t know if any of them work. They’ve been in here for twenty years. You can have them. We don’t need them anymore.”

I thanked him profusely—so much, in fact, that he told me to go already and see if any of the bulbs still functioned.

On the ride back to the hospital, I thought of how wonderful it would be to see all the bulbs lit. I got to the parking lot and then walked at a brisk pace to the main entrance. The guard there was surprised to see me at such a late hour.

I walked that half-block down to the recreation room. As I entered, and looked at that one unlit bulb, I had a strong hope that a little more light would soon be brought to that room. I approached the electric menorah and unscrewed the malfunctioning bulb. I reached into the bag and took out the first bulb, and began screwing it into that eighth slot. There’s a certain point in turning it where you know that if it hasn’t lit, it’s not going to light. I had gone beyond that point, and had twisted it in so tight that I wondered if I could get it out.

But get it out I did, and I knew it was one bulb down and eight more to go. I repeated the procedure with the next bulb, and it too gave off no light. Then the third and fourth bulbs, with the same lack of results. I was telling myself not to let this disappoint me. I had done all I could reasonably do.

Next came the fifth, sixth and seventh bulbs, with no illumination at all.

The eighth bulb also didn’t work.

Sitting unused for many years, it was now bringing more light into the worldIt all came down to the last bulb. Realistically, I knew that the chances were incredibly slim for this bulb to work while the others had not. But I could not let go of that hope, would not let go of that hope that maybe this one would glow.

I didn’t want to prolong the anticipation anymore, so I took the remaining bulb and started to screw it in. I never got a chance to tighten it, as halfway through turning it, a bright orange light emanated from its center. It had worked! Sitting unused for many years, it was now bringing more light into the world. I was filled with such a joy that I just stared at it and smiled . . . for how long, I do not know.

In my heart I thanked G‑d, and I thanked Mr. Gallant, and I was so happy for the residents at the hospital that they would have a menorah that signified the correct day.

The ride home to Philadelphia was very sweet.