Attendance for community services and yom tov meals may be…
By Faygie Levy Holt – Chabad.org
Chabad Young Professionals and CTeen efforts encourage Jewish volunteerism.
An army of teen and young professional volunteers is spreading out this week and next through Jewish communities in remote villages, small towns and major cities to bring the light and spirit of Hanukkah to hundreds of thousands of individuals and families who would otherwise not be celebrating the holiday during this difficult and isolating coronavirus year.
Stephanie Blitshtein of Plano, Texas, is one young woman who, observing proper social distancing, will be handing out menorah kits as part of the worldwide “Ambassador of Light” program coordinated by the Chabad-Lubavitch Mitzvah Society, Chabad Young Professionals and CTeen chapters around the world
She explains her role like this: “Let’s say I have a friend who’s Jewish, I can give them a menorah with candles so they can have that to do the mitzvah. Also, if I know that someone at my housing complex is Jewish, I can give them a menorah or leave it at their door. If my Chabad rabbi had to meet one person at a time on his own, I don’t know how long that would take,” says Blitshtein, a project manager for a software company.
This isn’t her first role as an “ambassador” for Chabad. She previously participated in a Chabad Ambassadors’ trip to Russia in 2018 and has encouraged people to attend Shabbat dinner at Chabad over the years. “It’s really cool because I feel like it’s a chain reaction,” she says. “My rabbi got me to come, and I got my friend to come and they got their friend … it’s beautiful to see. My one mitzvah can affect someone else and you never know the impact that will have.”
According to Rabbi Eli Block, leader of Chabad Young Professionals in San Antonio, “There is nothing more fulfilling and gratifying than to contribute to a person’s Jewish experience, and to be a part of that not just by receiving but by giving. So when someone becomes an ambassador, it expresses that they are an active player in their Yiddishkeit and in spreading Yiddishkeit, and that’s the essence of the vision of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.”
Indeed, giving doesn’t just empower the receiver. It empowers the giver as well.
“I think Chanukah will be a little more meaningful this year because I am connecting on a different level and scale than usual,” says 15-year-old Jonathan Gueta, a CTeen member and an Ambassador of Light in Roslyn, N.Y., on Long Island. “It also makes me feel more connected to the holiday.”
In addition to handing out menorah kits to other teens, Gueta will also tell them about CTeen programs and encourage them to join the youth group’s activities.
Spreading the Light in Canada
In Montreal, Vanessa Ades will be joining other members of her Chabad Young Professionals chapter to hand out menorahs to members of the community. They are hoping to set up a menorah-distribution table outside their local synagogue, Montreal Torah Center Bais Menachem Chabad Lubavitch, so that people will “come for a social distance hi,” she says. “COVID has brought so much loneliness and I think, especially now, having meaning in your life and knowing you are a part of a community and having people who support you has never been more important.
“It’s a super strange time for everybody, but it is still important to do this mitzvah and we don’t want people feeling alone in these crazy, dark times,” continues Ades, who also attended the Chabad Ambassadors’ tour of Russia. “If we can bring some light into the world, even if that’s a small mitzvah of lighting a small candle for eight nights, hopefully it will bring light into everyone’s homes.”
It is not only official “Ambassadors of Light” who can help spread the mitzvah of Chanukah. Through the Chabad Mitzvah Society, anyone can go online and gift a friend, relative or neighbor with a Chanukah Kit containing the basic tools to mark the Festival of Lights. Two different packages are available; a basic kit containing a menorah, candles and a booklet about the holidays, and a “Chanukah Party in a Box,” which also includes games, crafts, Chanukah cookies, chocolate coins and more. Both are heavily subsidized and cost less than $20. To gift a menorah forward, visit the Mitzvah Society page here.
“Everyone can be involved in the sharing and caring for other people and making sure that everyone has what they need for Chanukah,” says Rabbi Mendy Ceitlin, who is spearheading the program through Merkos Suite 302, which provides programs and services for Chabad emissaries and institutions worldwide. “Every single person can be a Jewish emissary and get involved and give to another person.”
By at least one measure, it is clear these various endeavors are quite successful. Chabad emissaries are reporting that they have run out of menorahs to give away. Not to worry, though, they are restocking and will have menorahs and candles available for anyone who needs them as the start of the holiday on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 10 approaches.
All told, this year’s global campaign will see Chabad-Lubavitch reach 8 million Jews in more than 100 countries. An estimated 10 million unique visitors are expected to use the practical how-to guides and discover many layers of meaning at the movement’s Hanukkah.org website. Additionally, Chabad will help families bring the light and celebration of Chanukah into their homes by distributing approximately 64 million Chanukah candles, more than 700,000 menorah kits, 2.5 million holiday guides in 17 languages.
In Rochester, N.Y., where the emissaries are using a variety of different Chanukah packages to reach people, including the Ambassadors of Light program, Rabbi Moshe Vogel of Chabad Young Professionals says that response to the Chanukah kits has been strong.
“Chanukah has always been a time when people want to be together. It’s a time for parties and gathering, and this year people are realizing that they can’t go home, but they still want to celebrate,” says Vogel. “The Chanukah kits give them everything ready-made and encourage them to celebrate.”
“The message of Chanukah is a little bit of light goes a long way in the darkness,” says Ceitlin. “By lighting the menorah with all the darkness in the world right now, it’s a great time to kindle our Judaism, connect to G‑d and spread light in the world.”
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