Chanukkah has always been my favorite holiday. It is a joyful, magical time, allowing eight full days and nights to spend time with friends and family, playing games, singing around the table, enjoying latkes and sufganiot, and offering gifts to the people we love for the sole purpose of bringing them light. Indeed, Chanukkah commemorates the brave tale of the vastly outnumbered Maccabees who recaptured the Temple and relit the menorah. A vial of pure oil sufficient to burn one day burned for eight days straight – a miracle of light. As such, every year when the days get shorter and colder and Chanukkah approaches, I find myself quietly taking stock of my surroundings and asking myself where I can find my own modern miracles of light. I never have to look very far.
As a mother of four sons who are either current or past Jewish day school students, and as a former Jewish day school student and educator myself, I am well-versed in the often-touted virtues of day schools. These include everything from the academic rigor that emerges from a simultaneously robust secular and Jewish studies curriculum, to Hebrew fluency, to a deep-seated dedication to tikkun olam, repairing the world–all of which are worthy and valuable reasons to invest in Jewish day schools and would be entirely sufficient on their own. However, what our schools cannot possibly fully illustrate with words is the essence of the human beings that Jewish day schools and Jewish day schools alone can help create, inspire and nurture.
Jewish day school students are curious, critical thinkers, dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. They are sensitive, empathetic individuals, devoted to social justice and to righting the world’s innumerable wrongs. They have a unique moral compass, guided by the Jewish values of kindness, righteousness, and compassion. Day school students and alumni are nothing short of beacons of light. And, just because they may be small in size does not mean they are any less impactful; after all, a room full of darkness is drastically changed by even the smallest of flames.
Perhaps most powerful in this particular moment, Jewish day school students are steeped in a deep love of Israel, a love that is inextricably bound to their Judaism and thus to the fundamental core of their being. In a world that now feels exceptionally dark, this pure love of Israel is apparent to me on a daily basis in the halls of our schools, from the early childhood students waving their Israeli flags as they sing Hatikvah, to the lower school students welcoming in new Israeli families who may be joining them for a few weeks or even a few months in search of a wartime respite, to the middle and upper school students weeping as they listen to the testimony of survivors of the 10/7 attacks who are their exact age and in whom they see themselves.
Now more than ever, we must invest in Jewish day schools to provide our kids–our Jewish future– with the knowledge, the tools, and the pure and simple ahavat Israel that will empower them to step into their larger communities and shout it from the rooftops. Indeed, we light Chanukkah candles by a door or window – exits to our home – because it is not enough to light up our own lives; we must share with others what we know to be good. Our Jewish day school students do just that; they are warriors of light. If the lesson of Chanukkah is that we all have the ability to add light to the darkness, that starts with our Jewish day school students; they are our greatest hope.