Rabbi Charley Baginsky, 30 December 2016
This year all the rabbis are writing a Thought for the Week on the parasha they read for their Bnei Mitzvah. This year marks 25 years since I stood next to Rabbi Andrew Goldstein and read from the Torah for the very first time. It was, for me, a very significant moment and one which I think played its part in shaping the years that followed. But for those of you who know me, you will know that this time of the year has since my birth played a defining part in my identity. Born to Mary (and William) on Christmas Day, which that year happened to also be the first day of Chanukah has been material for sermons, bad jokes and interfaith relationships for many years. This year as both those dates combine again I cannot help but remember 19 years ago when I celebrated my birthday in Israel. I had my first birthday party with friends on my birthday and for once the focus was one me and not Jesus! I sound, I realise like a spoilt brat, begrudging others their festivities but this time of year has the tendency to bring out the worst in me.
Actually, I think I am not alone. While there are many for whom this time of seasons’ goodwill to all people brings them joy and gladness there are also those who find this time of year incredibly difficult and for reasons much more profound than my own. On social media sites many people have been posting the phone numbers for
Childline: 0800 1111
Samaritans: 116 123
Domestic Violence Hotline: 0808 2000 247
Mind: 0300 123 3393
Age UK: 0800 169 6565
An essential reminder that this time of year can highlight our own loneliness and struggles. It is no coincidence that we find so many religions with festivals of lights at this time of year, a need to feel warmth penetrate the endless dark nights.
In a commentary on this week’s parasha the Gerer Rebbe interprets that Joseph’s brothers inability to recognise him had nothing to do with Joseph looking different nor to with their memory of him having faded, but rather that Egypt at that time was filled with darkness. This darkness may have been metaphorical but was nevertheless overwhelming and ensured that people could not recognise another person, even their own sibling.
And yet, the story tells us that Joseph was able to recognise his brothers he had managed to see light even in the darkest of places and this recognition led to them being finally reunited. Similarly we remember a miracle of light at Chanukah. Oil which should have lasted for one day, remained alight for eight. A little bit of light in the darkness can change lives.
As I look around my room surrounded by Chanukah presents for my family, Christmas presents for the children’s teachers and friends, I am reminded how lucky I am sharing this time with so many people. Instead of resenting everyone getting presents on both my secular and Hebrew birthday I am filled with gratitude for my friends, family and community. Yet it is also a stark reminder of those for whom this year will be a struggle and I am inspired to try and bring a little light to them where I can. Fire, as we know is contagious if you can light a little light this year for someone you know may be on their own or spending the first season without a loved one or for whom the darkness of the long nights is difficult then take that opportunity.
Additionally for those of you who would like to forgo the traditional bank holiday lunch there are lots of opportunities to volunteer on this day – Rabbi Rich can often be seen driving the mayor around Kingston Upon Thames so that his driver can spend time with his family!
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