Last week on the first day of Chanukah there was a fascinating article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a grove of coast redwoods in Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County. They had been scorched by wildfires in 2020. Scientists studying the area were amazed to find fresh growth growing on trees that had been severely burned. Using carbon dating, the scientists determined that the redwoods were using sugars stored in their systems 50 years ago to feed this new growth. How remarkable! The trees drew upon reserves of energy from their inner core to sustain them through the devastation of the fires and to nurture their reemergence of life. The trees also require outside environmental factors to support them as they renew themselves and come back stronger than ever: the proper amounts of sunlight, rain, and good clean air.
The story of these beautiful redwoods was so apt, poignant, and symbolic for me as we began Chanukah this year. The difficulties of these dark times can be overcome by drawing on the depths of our own inner resources: our history, traditions, and values, as well as our connection with God, and our connection with our people. Just as those long-stored sugars nurtured and sustained the trees, along with the right environmental factors, the stories of our people’s deeply entrenched values of resilience and courage in the face of adversity can nurture and sustain us.
We see an example of this in our Torah portion this week Miketz. Joseph uses his faith in God to give him inner strength and resilience to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, be released from Potiphar’s prison, and go on to lead the Egyptians through one of the worst famines they have experienced. In the process, he becomes second in command over all of Egypt and will eventually be able to save his family from famine as well.
Joseph’s story is our story. From the very first night of Chanukah, our Temple Beth Sholom community showed up to support and strengthen each other at our communal candle-lighting in the Old Town Orange circle each night. Our numbers were larger than in previous years. It was heartwarming to have so many people choose to be together to celebrate our Festival of Lights!
This year, every single night of our communal candle-lighting, ministers and congregants of different faiths also joined with us. They came “to support us during these difficult times and to protect us if we needed it.” The first night, one of the ministers brought a large platter of sufganiyot (filled doughnuts) to share that he purchased from OC Kosher. The presence of our interfaith friends standing by our side during this time was incredibly moving. To me, this represents some of the “environmental factors” that will sustain and nurture our people, it brings hope in the darkness, and it reminds us that all good people of faith want the same things: peace, harmony, love, security, and justice for all.
As we lit the eighth and final candle of Chanukah last night, surrounded by our own community as well as by our new friends, I emerge from this celebration with renewed hope and optimism. I know that the current situation will take a long time to resolve and we have a long road ahead of us. However, I am reminded that with God by our side, with the stories of our past inspiring us, with our own community gathering in unity and purpose, and with the support of our friends and neighbors, we fan the flames of hope for vitality, peace, strength, and a bright renewed tomorrow.