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White Plains Rabbi Finds Modern Hanukkah Message

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – As Hanukkah rolls around this year, Rabbi Lester Bronstein, said the annual commemoration of rebel Jewish fighters' triumph over Syrian rulers has him thinking about how light can triumph over darkness in modern times.

Bronstein, who has been the rabbi at Bet Am Shalom Synagogue since 1989, said the eight-day Festival of Lights is a way for him and other Jews to imagine themselves as the “helper candle” used to light the other candles on the menorah.

“You’re the servant candle. You’ve got an inherent light and you’ve got something that you can do to help somebody else,” said Bronstein, a White Plains resident. “The economy is bad, more people are out of work and hungry, so what’s the Hanukkah message? You’ve got what it takes to help somebody. You can cook turkeys and serve them. If you’ve got more money because you got a bonus, be more charitable. Go, visit hospitals."

This Hanukkah, Bronstein said he sees the triumph of light in American troops departure from Iraq and his communities' generosity in trying economic times.

Hanukkah commemorates the victory of a small band of Jewish warriors known as the Macabees who fought against Syrian rulers for their religious freedom around 160 B.C. Macabees triumphed against an army that greatly outnumbered them and reclaimed their holy temple in Jerusalem.

When the Jews prepared to reopen the temple by lighting a menorah, or seven-candle light fixture, they discovered they only had enough olive oil to last for one night, when the ceremony required eight nights of light. Legend says the menorah burned for eight days, which Bronstein says points to the importance of having faith. Now menorahs have eight candles for each night, plus one to light the others.

“The miracle is not so much that the oil lasted eight days, but that these Jews, in fighting for their beliefs and their principles and risking life and limb, went in and lit the menorah anyway,” said Bronstein. “If you think there’s not enough light you may say, ‘Oh forget it,” or ‘It’s a failure,’ but there’s an act of hope in saying, ‘Let’s light it anyway.’”

Bet Am Shalom will include special prayers, a specific Torah reading, and a candle lighting ceremony to its services during Hanukkah. An additional candle is lit each night during Hanukkah until the entire menorah is lit.

Families often enjoy fried potato latkes and jelly donuts during the festival of lights. Many children play a top game called dreidel for chocolate coins.

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