My Perfect Gift
The Gift of Humanity
Rabbi Sandor Milun
Managing Director, Give It Forward Today (GIFT)
London, United Kingdom
A few years ago, I was privileged to go with my family to a resort in rural South Africa for a few days. After a long day of safari drives, relaxing on the patio and braaiing/barbequing, I decided to go for a little quiet time on my own.
I climbed in the car and drove off to the reserve, where I thought I’d be able to go on my very own night game drive. The guard at the entrance politely told me I could not go in, as no unaccompanied night drives were allowed.
What happened next simply blew my mind. I struck up a conversation with the guard, his command of the English language limited to education in a village school in rural South Africa. We spoke about his family (he was orphaned at eleven), about his dreams, his desire to better himself and to develop his working skills. At some point, I got out of the car. Standing under the stars were me and some security guard three meters away from the gate of the game reserve—pitch black darkness and a cacophony of different wild animals
in surround sound.
Survival, starvation, education, dignity…those were the challenges facing this nineteen-year-old man
What did we have in common? Besides being human and South African, nearly nothing. I come from a privileged background and this young man earned the equivalent of seventy pence an hour-- yes, an HOUR! He’d battled to pass his twelfth-grade exams, having to do menial jobs to help his younger siblings eat. The feeling of disappointment I had for not having had a good whiskey to savour during my barbeque earlier sheepishly began to vanish.
Council tax, new cars, the right schools, iPhone vs Samsung, Facebook statuses--they all began to take on a very different meaning. Survival, starvation, education, dignity… those were the challenges facing this nineteen-year-old man named Ni’iku (GIFT in English).
I then began to tell him about me. I asked if he knew about the Jewish people. His negative reply told me that he didn’t have any media-induced biases. He hadn’t heard of England, he knew about Manchester United, though (they have a seriously good marketing team!!), and he didn’t know that there was a queen of England. I asked him if he had heard of the Bible? Moses? Yes, he had. I told him I was a descendant of those people, the Hebrews. Ahhh, yes, he had heard of the Hebrews. It felt pretty awesome to actually think and say that!!
We marvelled at how Hashem had created so many stars, and I attempted to explain to him how each star was a sun with its own planets etc. and that they were very far away. I explained to him that where I come from, our conversation was less likely to happen than me spotting cheetah in the reserve (they don’t have cheetah there!) and even less likely was the chance of seeing the stars in all their glory.
I’ll never forget you as long as I live
I began to encourage him to develop his spoken English, as this is the only way he would be able to advance job-wise. He knew that there were another two million people just like him who would be overjoyed to work for that seventy pence an hour. I began to teach him English - the tenses, and some ways of saying hello to guests - and I encouraged him to speak to guests as much as possible. In addition, I suggested he read a newspaper to develop his vocabulary. He agreed, but said he needed to get himself a dictionary to
learn the words.
We’d been talking for two hours. I asked him if this kind of conversation happened often to him and he said it never had. Ni’iku also said something I felt mutually: “I’ll never forget you
as long as I live.”
It was late, I said goodnight and thought I’d see him tomorrow. But when I went back to see him the next night, with an Oxford Dictionary I’d bought from the closest town that morning – a sixty kilometre round trip-- the new guy on the gate told me they had transferred Ni’iku to some other place. Just like that,
my friend was gone.
Remember (the new guard’s name), gave me his cell phone number. I called Ni’iku and told him that I was giving Remember the dictionary. When we spoke, he was unable to express his thanks for my gift. Frankly, it’s probably the best five quid I’ve ever spent....
My Perfect Gift
The Gift of Light
Pastor Luc Henrist
In this world filled with uncertainty and fear of tomorrow, at a time when the days are getting shorter and shorter and we hardly ever see the sun, all of us are looking for the dawn of a new day.
We need bright hope for tomorrow. Therefore, let us not despair in the midst of our circumstances, which have been very rough for many this year.
I love the saying: “Don’t curse the darkness, but light a candle.” Chanukah is the “Festival of Lights,” which starts with just one candle, but the light intensifies day after day, as we light more and more candles! Likewise, let us light, not only the Chanukah candles but a candle in our hearts, starting with a little bit of hope instead of despair and darkness. Let this light increase day by day until those around us will also see that light in us. A children’s Christian song says: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” Yes, that’s what we should do. Don’t let the darkness overcome you, but overcome darkness by keeping your light, your hope alive. The greatest gift we need in today’s world is the gift of peace. Inner peace, peace with God and peace with one another. This peace is a form of inner light, a gift from Heaven.
Israel has been and still is a source of light for all nations
We see in the Bible that Israel has been called to be “a light of the nations” (Isaiah 49:6) and also that to Abraham, God said: “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). We see, indeed, how Israel has been and still is a source of light for all nations, in many fields, and how Israel has indeed been a source of blessing to all the families of the earth. Let us, in return, be a source of blessing to Israel, not just in words, but also in deeds!
Christians celebrate the coming of Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew), a son of Israel, the “light of the world” at this darkest time of the year. May the lights of Chanukah and the light of Yeshua enable us to realize that there is still hope for tomorrow, as it is written: “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” (Malachi 4:2)
My Perfect Gift
The Gift of Surprise!
Mexico City, Mexico
Hi. I’m Renee Harari.
Having reached December 2020 and the approach of Chanukah during these pandemic times has made many of us think that all we have are good memories. My husband Jose and I have B’H been blessed to share many great moments in Israel with the Israel Bonds delegation and have had the opportunity to meet with very important government leaders.
Someone knocked on the door and… surprise
Yesterday, while reminiscing about those moments, someone knocked at the door and…surprise! We received a beautiful Chanukah gift from Israel Bonds/Women´s Division International: Chanukah Sameach candles and delicious chocolates!
What a great present, as we celebrate Chanukah from the 24th of Kislev until the 3rd of Tevet. I’d like to thank all the Israel Bonds staff for always keeping us in mind.
Chag Sameach! Happy Chanukah! Shalom, Shalom Israel, and all our communities
Thank you and L’chaim, L’chaim, L’chaim!
My Perfect Gift
The Gift of Family and Friends
The year 2020 has been an extraordinary one indeed. The global coronavirus pandemic has heightened our awareness that time is subjective. As I reminisce about 2020, it seems as if some days have passed very slowly while some weeks, and even months have just flown by. For me, now is usually the most silent and contemplative time of the year.
Though Chanukah and Christmas are, of course, very different, both are usually celebrated with lights, family, presents, and food.
Such a setting seems to be particularly desirable now, when the coronavirus has restricted and put to the test exactly these aspects: joie de vivre and spending time together. Paradoxically, keeping one's distance has become an expression of caring.
lights, family, presents and food
For many of us, the pandemic has had severe impacts on our personal lives, be they the loss of loved ones, economic hardship or simply personal restrictions on everyday life that should not be underestimated.
This strange and unpredictable year has been different in many ways, and though it might sound a bit hackneyed, my most beautiful present for Christmas would be to celebrate it with my entire family and friends.
I know it won’t be possible this year, but I want to make the best of it. As we’re still coming to terms with the health and economic cost of the virus’s outbreak, there is hope that eventually things will get better.
It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for me to realize this, but the most important and most treasured present has always been spending time with the people I love.
My Perfect Gift
The Gift of Banishing the Darkness
Director, Renascença Synagogue
São Paulo, Brazil
It was with great honor and surprise that I received an invitation from my dear friend Eyla Benedykt, a hard worker for Israel Bonds Brazil in São Paulo, to write about something significant to me that I gave or received at Chanukah. I started to think and suddenly, a memory occurred from my childhood that really affected me.
I’d like to tell you about my first Chanukah gift.
I consider myself the shamash (the pilot flame) of a chanukiah because it is my mission to bring a little light to those in need. One of the basic teachings of Judaism that I received from my dear father is, "Always do good for the sake of doing good, and not for the reward." My narrative starts in Campo Grande, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Campo Grande was a city that in the 1946 had so few Jewish families that they could be counted on one hand, though now you will find many Jews and Zionists there. My Jewish teachings were provided by my parents, due to the lack of a Jewish school.
At this point, I pay my sincere homage to the great Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l who recently passed away leaving a great void and a great legacy. He once said, "It takes an army to defend a country, but there must be schools to defend an identity."
Our Jewish identity will only be maintained as long as we have Jewish schools.
Let's go back to my narrative...
This chanukiah is the simplest and most valuable Chanukah gift I can give you.
We lived in a modest house and in the absence of light, which often happened, we had to use the candlelight to ward off the darkness. My father always said to us, "the flame of this candle will always illuminate you and your souls, providing the light and the comfort similar to human warmth." One of those blackout moments occurred on the first night of Chanukah. When the lights went out, I ran to get a candle, and as I was preparing to light it, my father appeared carrying a small chanukiah, with the shamash lit. When he approached me and my brothers, he said something that really touched me: “This chanukiah is the simplest and most valuable Chanukah gift that I can give you. And you, as my oldest son, never forget this moment, and carry this teaching to your future generations.” And he added, “Now, let's all light the first candle and say the prayer.” That scene never left my head, because it was the first time in my life that I could feel the real meaning of Chanukah.
Each of us can have a brilliant life, both materially and spiritually
I also remember that among my first Chanukah gifts was a sivivon (a dreidel or spinning top). My first sivivon meant a great deal to me; I spent hours and hours, watching it spin. While it was spinning, I couldn't see the four letters in Hebrew, letters that only later I understood to mean, “a great miracle happened there.” It spun, as life does, frantically.
My sivivon and the lights of my first chanukiah brought me then and still bring me great memories. But most important, I am guided by the message that the lights of Chanukah signify: “The brightness of the light illuminates the individual lives of people and the whole community, so that each of us can have a brilliant life, both materially and spiritually.”
Our sages have always taught: “a little light banishes the darkness,” and I add, “and it warms hearts.”
Let us remember to always keep the flame burning, so that Israel's spiritual light will never be extinguished.
Chag Chanukah Sameach
My Perfect Gift
The Gift of our Chanukah Traditions
At Chanukah on the 25th of Kislev, there is a minhag (custom) to give money away. Most of the time, parents give their children the money—how much is a very individual choice.
In our family, everyone has their own chanukiah. It is a beautiful tradition to light the candles every evening for eight days when the days get shorter, as the light drives away the darkness.
First, we light the candles together, then songs are sung and latkes and sufganiot are eaten. Afterwards, we play with the dreidl. As a father, I will tell the story of Chanukah: There was a miracle, over 2,200 years ago. The Maccabees defeated a very strong army and recaptured their temple, simply because they had been strengthened by their faith and trust in G-d. The oil found in the temple lasted for eight days, although there was only enough for one day.
Gratitude is one of the most important pillars in life
I gave the most beautiful Chanukkah present to my future wife when she was pursuing a course of Jewish studies for a semester in New York. It was a few days before Chanukah when I bought her a small, golden pendant featuring a chanukiah with a star of David. Since then,
she wears it every year when we celebrate Chanukah, and we both always remember this special moment.
I have personally discovered that gratitude is one of the most important pillars in life. Even in a challenging year like 2020, there are still a lot of things to be grateful for. We are very grateful that we have the State of Israel, as it is and remains an important refuge for the Jews in Europe.
As a nes (miracle) of Chanukah, I wish as a gift that the pandemic will be contained.
My Perfect Gift
The gift of Family
São Paulo, Brazil
Being born during school holidays usually means that few friends will be at your birthday parties. And what if, like me, you were born on December 26th? The whole world is on vacation then, and so I spent all my childhood and adolescence without having a party!
And no gifts!
Already married and with children, I decided to set another date, in December, to celebrate and thus receive friends at home. Then I thought, why not use the Jewish date of the first Chanukah candle to celebrate my birthday too?
I was born on the day when the first Chanukah candle is lit - hence the origin of my name, Nessim, which means miracles. But I had never thought of putting the dates together.
Now, always on the night of the first candle I celebrate my birthday.
And the gifts?
My greatest gift is having my children and grandchildren around me, lighting the first candle!
Photo Credit: Lilian Knobel Fotografia