I always look forward to. For eight days, I get more and more excited as the day continues and the next night of Chanukah approaches. While life will always have its share of dark moments, the opportunity to spend a week surrounded by close family and friends, re-telling the story of the miracle of the Jewish people’s survival, against all odds, in their battle against the mighty Greek empire, is always uplifting.
Which is why a few years ago, it was a strange feeling to be leaving my family, and dreading the darkness I was sure Chanukah would bring.
Thanks to an invitation from a close friend, on the sixth night of Chanukah I found myself on the road from the Maidjanek concentration camp to Warsaw in the darkest place I have ever been.
On our way back to Warsaw, we detoured into Lublin to visit the desecrated Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin. Established by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, one of the greatest Torah scholars of the last century, who was the Chief Rabbi of Poland, the yeshiva’s dedication ceremony was attended by fifty thousand people.
It was in these halls that thousands of Jews had the chance to discover the joy of the study of Torah. And here as well, the Nazis gathered the Talmudic Library of the Yeshiva and transported them to the market place where they were set on fire, a prelude to the same fate that would soon befall the forty thousand Jews of Lublin. So how does one celebrate Chanukah in such a dark place where, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, only 230 Jews in this area of German occupation survived the war? Where was their miracle?
But as much as one cannot be prepared for such emptiness, what really caught us by surprise was what we encountered as we entered one of the smaller classrooms of the Yeshiva.