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By Rabbi Yael Splansky.
Chanukah, 5777

The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) instructs us in lighting the Chanukah menorah in order to “publicize the miracle.” There is a hierarchy of practice, depending on one’s circumstance.

  1. Chanukah lights should be placed outside the doorway of the house. (Later opinions specify that the Chanukah menorah should be placed opposite the mezuzah, so that the doorway is adorned on both sides with symbols of faith. This is the practice in many homes in Israel today.)
  2. If the person does not live on the ground floor of the building, he should place the menorah next to a window facing the street.
  3. If the person lives in a time of danger, place it inside on the table.

Consider this remarkable photograph. It was a time and a place of danger and yet this delicate Chanukiyah was set in the window as an act of protest against the darkness.

The website “Rare Historical Photos” tells the tale:

It was the eighth night of Chanukah in Kiel, Germany, a small town with a Jewish population of 500. That year, 1931, the last night Chanukah fell on Friday evening, and Rabbi Akiva Boruch Posner, spiritual leader of the town was hurrying to light the Menorah before the Shabbat set in.

Directly across the Posner’s home stood the Nazi headquarters in Kiel, displaying the dreaded Nazi Party flag in the cold December night. With the eight lights of the Menorah glowing brightly in her window, Rabbi Posner’s wife, Rachel, snapped a photo of the Menorah and captured the Nazi building and flag in the background. She wrote a few lines in German on the back of the photo. “Chanukah, 5692. ‘Judea dies,’ thus says the banner. ‘Judea will live forever,’ thus respond the lights.”

The image, freezing in time a notorious piece of the past, has grown to become an iconic part of history for the Jewish community. But until just recently, not much was known about the origins of the photo. Both the menorah and photo survived World War II, with the Chanukiah finding its way to Yad Vashem through the loan of Yehudah Mansbuch.  Mansbuch is the grandson of the woman who took the picture, and he retains the original snapshot. When Yad Vashem was putting together its plans to open the Holocaust History Museum, a team of researchers set out to learn more about this famous photo.

Mansbuch, who now lives in Haifa, recalls:

“My grandfather, the rabbi of the Kiel community, was making many speeches, both to Jews and Germans. To the Germans he warned that the road they were embarking on was not good for Jews or Germans, and to the Jews he warned that something terrible was brewing, and they would do well to leave Germany. My grandfather fled Germany in 1933, and moved to Israel. His community came to the train station to see him off, and before departing he urged his people to flee Germany while there was still time.”

The couple’s prescience saved an entire community; only eight of the five hundred Jews of Kiel perished in the Holocaust.

Today, each Chanukah, Yad Vashem returns the now famous menorah to the family, so they can light the candles for eight nights.

“History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

Outside of Israel, Toronto is probably the best city on earth for a Jew to live today.  We are so blessed.  Tonight the Chanukah menorah burns brightly at Queen’s Park.  Now is not then.  Here is not there.  And yet, the world-wide growing xenophobia and anti-Semitism are real and finding new footholds even in this good country.  We are duty-bound to let nothing slip. We must read every sign and actively build bridges among neighbours.  This work can begin with the Chanukiyah.  The simple act of placing your Chanukah menorah in your window rather than on your table sends a profound message of faith in your neighbours and faith in Canada.  The Talmud instructs that only in a time of danger does the chanukiyah belong inside on the table.  Let those little lights declare:  This is not a time of danger.  This is a time and place of wondrous freedom.  And I will celebrate it with newfound courage and commitment.

Chag Urim Sameach!  Wishing you and those you love a Chanukah filled with light. 

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Showing 2 comments
  • Yehuda Beni

    Thank you, Rabbi for an inspiring reflection. i found the photograph especially profound given the darkness in our own time, namely, the increasing upheaval in international politics, of regressive right wing polemics (especially south of the border), and reflexive alarm and pessimism. Hardly equivalent in any respect to the Shoah, but still an important act of faith, of hope and courage to kindle the “delicate Chanukiyah” light “against the darkness.”

  • HERSH Glickman

    A rare inspiring story from the darkest of times.

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