My family and I really love to bake. Whether it is challah for Shabbat or a cake for a special occasion, it is one of those things that we do together – as a family. This past week, I was at the grocery store picking up some items for a baking adventure. The young woman who was checking me out wished me a happy holiday and told me to have a, “great day on purpose.”
Her statement took my breath away, and it really pushed me to think about the purpose of my day, and how I was going to make it even better. Even though I don’t know her, she was part of that purposefully great day. It is often those small differences that make a big impact. This one interaction changed my entire outlook on the day. I thought about it all through the baking adventure with my family, and it got me thinking about the purpose of our upcoming Hanukkah holiday.
Hanukkah means dedication. The word comes from the Maccabees’ rededication of the Temple after the revolution. For them, it was about re-engaging with old traditions that had been set aside. This year, Hanukkah for us might include setting aside some of our long traditions in favor of zoom candle lightings, drop-off gift exchanges, or quiet nights at home instead of community parties. The “public commemoration of the miracle” which is the hallmark of this holiday may need to take new forms in this unusual year. And yet, it is the purpose we give to it that will signal our continued dedication to tradition, to each other, and to our command to bring more light into the darkest time of the year.
This year, we are going to be celebrating Hanukkah “on purpose!” Whether it is our Shabbat service on the second night of Hanukkah, on that Saturday night with a concert with musician Deborah Sacks Mintz, or on the last night of the holiday with a film discussion and candle lighting, we are looking for purposeful ways to connect, to be together, and to celebrate the light of this season. It is that planful and thoughtful process that makes the Coalition such a special community.
The Talmud, in tractate Shabbat (21b), tells us that it is a mitzvah to put the hanukiyah at the entrance of your home, so that everyone can see it. If you live upstairs, you are supposed to put it in a window. The idea being that you need to demonstrate your dedication in a public way. I want to invite you to think about bringing that sense of public dedication and purpose with you this month. Wherever you go, I hope you will bring the sense of joy “on purpose.” Don’t just let it happen. Rather, make it a choice that is planful and thoughtful, and leads you to a more fulfilling and connected holiday season.
I look forward to seeing you at some of our virtual events this month, and to celebrating Hanukkah with you in the weeks ahead. As we approach the holiday next week, Jen, Talyah, Kol, and I wish each of you a holiday full of light and joy and purpose.
Kol Tuv (Be Well),
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Since I shared with you my family’s love of baking, I thought it might be nice to also share with you one of our family recipes for a Hanukkah treat – suf ganiyot. These jelly-filled donuts are a sweet and fun treat to make and even better to eat! Enjoy this little piece of our family’s Hanukkah celebration! – Rabbi James
THE WASHINGTON COUNCIL OF CONGREGATIONS
While many of the Washington houses of worship turned to online religious services for safety purposes during the COVID-19 pandemic, that didn’t stop them from continuing to serve their communities. In late May, seven established religious congregations in the Town of Washington agreed to join together to form the Washington Council of Congregations. The goal of the Council is to magnify impact and unify forces to better serve their neighbors through a variety of collaborative efforts. The Council includes First Congregational Church of Washington, the Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life, New Preston Congregational Church, the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Hope, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church, and Salem Covenant Church.
Since its formation, the Washington Council of Congregations (WCOC) has worked together on two recurring projects. The first has been three Drive-Thru Food Drives (one in May, June and August), organized each month by a different congregation and all held at the First Congregational Church of Washington. Look for notices of a fall drive! The Council has donated all donations of shelf stable food cans and boxes, personal care products, cleaning supplies and cash and checks to the Washington/Warren and New Milford Food Banks. The food banks have experienced a significant increase in need since the spread of Covid-19.
The second project has been a weekly collection of fresh produce, other market products and monetary donations at the Saturday Farmer’s Market from 10 am to 1 pm at the Judy Black Memorial Park and Gardens in Washington Depot. The congregations take turns hosting the table and then delivering the collection to the Community Culinary School of Northwest CT in New Milford, whose chefs have been using the proceeds to help prepare meals (on average 650 to 700 meals weekly) for the New Milford Senior Center, New Milford Food Bank, and Our Daily Bread Food Bank. Thank you to the market shoppers and farmers alike who have made generous donations to this effort each week. This collection will continue until the last Farmer’s Market at the Judy Black Park in late October, so there is still plenty of opportunity to support the collection!
The next project of the WCOC will be to host a recurring Red Cross Blood Drive, to be held at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington. If you are interested in donating blood or acting as a volunteer host on the first drive on September 11th, or at future drives, please contact email@example.com or 860-868-2527.
Together, the WCOC seeks to serve our neighbors through a variety of collaborative efforts. For more information about the Washington Council of Congregations and how you can get involved, please contact the office of any of the member congregations.
With thanks to Coalition members Ilene Leff and Carolyn Setlow for their great efforts and achievements on this important community project.