“…your legacy is every life you touch.”

Maya Angelou, American memoirist, poet, and civil rights activist

I am an American Jewish woman, loving wife, mother, and grandmother. I treasure my close-knit family and honor our precious freedoms we hold so dear here in America. To quote John F. Kennedy, “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

These photographs show my sweet grandsons celebrating the first night of Hanukkah yesterday, singing with his classmates on the steps of City Hall in Calgary, Canada, and lighting their Hanukkah menorahs at home in Minnesota. The amazing words from Lee Greenwood’s American ballad, “God Bless the USA” come to mind,

“I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.” And when he wrote “from sea to shining sea…” I include our good neighbor Canada in my feelings and that image.

The turmoil, hatred, antisemitism, racism, and other atrocities we are currently witnessing around our planet give great cause for alarm. My father was in the Army Corps of Engineers in World War II, rebuilding roads and bridges in France which had been destroyed as the Germans retreated. He and his unit were among the first to witness the horrors of the Nazi regime perpetrated on millions (Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and people with disabilities) during the war. These soldiers who had been fighting across the ravaged French countryside, found the concentration camp prisoners staring out from behind barbed wire fences through gaunt eyes, their tortured, emaciated bodies barely able to stand. They also found the crematoria, mass graves, prison camp buildings, and torture chambers. Would we want these atrocities to take over again?

On Christmas morning, we will again witness the reenactment of General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. The crossing took place December 25-26, 1776. During the frigid, foggy night, he and his exhausted troops loaded every boat they had been able to requisition from up and down the Delaware with their canons, other armaments, horses, and the troops themselves. Under cover of darkness, as they dodged ice flows, they made it across to the Titusville, New Jersey shore. After regrouping, they marched ten miles to Trenton, surprised the Hessian soldiers at the Battle of Trenton, thus turning the tide of the Revolutionary War. And again, Lee Greenwood’s words come to mind, “And I’d proudly stand up next to you and defend her still today, cause there ain’tno doubt I love this land. God bless the USA.”

As we prepare to light our menorahs to celebrate the second night of eight nights of Hanukkah, we retell the story. The Festival of Lights commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 164 BCE, after the Maccabean revolt led by Judah Maccabee against the powerful Syrian-Greek army, which had invaded Judea, defiled the Temple with statues of pagan gods, and tried to force the Judeans to worship their idols.

Why eight nights, you might ask? Once the Temple was reclaimed and sanctified, holy olive oil was needed to light the Ner Tamid, the “eternal flame” which shines perpetually in Jewish synagogues before or near the ark of the law where the holy Torah scrolls are stored. The Judeans could only find enough oil for one day, but miraculously, it lasted for eight days and nights. 

What do these historical events have in common? They illustrate the fact that we are willing to stand up for our beliefs, fight for our rights, and protect those we love. May our legacy be the endurance of our beloved America, which, since our founding, has stood as a symbol of freedom, upholding the principles of our Constitution. And may we send our light out into the world.

God Bless the USA!