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A Hanukkah to remember at Herzl: A letter from Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum to his congregation.
At Herzl-Ner Tamid this Hanukkah, there was no shortage of energy. I don’t mean that the power didn’t go out. It did. For three days, our synagogue was without heat or light. Our computers and phone service were out of commission. But, our wonderful staff and a cadre of dedicated volunteers turned a city-wide crisis into an inspirational moment here at HNT. True to our name (which means ‘eternal light’), on the shabbat of December 15-16, we became “Herzl-Where the Light Never Goes Out.”
Over two days with the lights out and the heat off, we had a Friday night service for 100 people, a Friday night bat mitzvah shabbat dinner, a shabbat service with over 350 people, a Kiddush luncheon and a Saturday night bat mitzvah party for over 150 people.
It was cold in the Sanctuary, but Herzl-Ner Tamid has never been warmer. As we davened and ate by candlelight and the glow of lanterns, there was a great spirit of togetherness in the air. Kudos to HNT’s fabulous staff: Nadine Strauss, Carol Maslan, Carol Reynolds, Nancy Babs, Lirit Maslan, Candice McMurray, Kevin Coughlin, Michelle Younker, John Anderson, Chhoeuk Soeun, Mei Xian Yu, Bob Zimmerman, Rabbi Bob Maslan, Andi Neuwirth, Tzachi Litov, Melanie Berman and Cantor Kurland all contributed over the weekend to turning a difficult time into a joyous Shabbat experience. And, much thanks to our president, Susan Matt for coordinating the efforts of our board of director volunteers.
Teresa Carew and her staff showed exceptional dedication and ingenuity in carrying off the extraordinary feat of cooking and serving three major meals without the normal sources of power. And, we can’t say enough about the patient, calm support of the Aaron and Aileen Okrent, Ian and Dana Wiener and their families who worked with us to create a most memorable bat mitzvah experience for Rachael and Kira. Rachael and Kira, of course, were fabulous. They never missed a beat!
After so many of us experienced the joy and relief of having our power back, let us not forget that there were many throughout the city, including many of our own members, who still did not have power in their homes. I have heard so many beautiful stories of members of our congregation who were housing friends and neighbors and offering the use of kitchens, hot showers and laundry facilities.
We also had a major opportunity to help our greater Seattle community by participating in Mitzvah Day on December 25.
Social agencies throughout the city were feeling a double strain on that day, with many employees away for the holidays, and with a backlog of work caused by the power crisis. I’m delighted that over 70 members of our congregation signed on to help.
Finally, perhaps the time has come for us to think more deeply about how we can prepare for crises like this in the future. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if HNT could become a command center for those in need should a situation like this ever occur again? What would it take us to become a place of refuge and a central address for community service in times of urgent need?
I am very proud of how our congregation responded to the needs of the hour this Hanukkah. Let’s continue to work to make Herzl-Ner Tamid a place where the light and warmth of Hanukkah are felt in our community all year round.
Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum