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A Hanukkah Message
Judy Finkelstein-Taff

Dear CJDS Community,

Happy Hanukkah. This year, one of my favorite parts of the week is facilitating Grade 4 Tefillah each Wednesday. This week we reintroduced the prayer referred to by its opening words, Al Hanissim, which is added and recited on Hanukkah as part of the silent portion of the Amidah. While I was reviewing with the students the words and meaning of the prayer, I had an epiphany myself, which I would like to share with you. First, please read the words and translation of Al Hanissim:

וְעַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַפֻּרְקָן וְעַל הַגְּבוּרוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֹת וְעַל הַמִּלְחָמוֹת שֶׁעָשִׂיתָה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ

 בַּיָמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה (v’al hanisim v’al hapurkan v’al hag’vurot v’al hatshu’ot v’al hamilkhamot she’asita l’avoteinu bayamim hahem bazman hazeh)

“And for the miracles and for the wonders and for the mighty deeds and for the salvations and for the victories that you wrought for our ancestors in their days and in this day.”


My discussion with Grade 4 students about this prayer reminded me that we have not fully acknowledged the miracles we have experienced over the last 18 months. I think part of the reason is that the word “miracle” implies something happening beyond our control. The word alludes to a faith in God and that miracles exist. While reciting Al Hanissim with Grade 4, I thought about how we have discussed time and again how tough this past year has been and the countless challenges we’ve faced, but we haven’t given proper credit to the miracles we’ve witnessed. 

These miracles of modern science and our own resilience stand hand in hand with our faith in God. It is a miracle that our ability to navigate the pandemic has allowed us to persevere and continue living our lives. It is a miracle that a school like ours has continued to grow and thrive during a pandemic. We’ve been reminded that modern day miracles do happen, and they aren’t merely archaic events from biblical times. We’ve been reminded, as the Maccabees taught us, to appreciate and celebrate the miracles in our lives.


I’m not sure this counts as a miracle, but we are certainly grateful for our incredible shinshinim. Ben, Naor, Neta, and Shai, who have brought so much Hanukkah ruach into our school this week. Their creativity and enthusiasm have literally lit up our lives! We thank them for everything they did to make Hanukkah so special this year. 

Today we welcomed Betsy Gidwitz to campus. Betsy has been a supporter of CJDS since the early days of our founding, and the second floor’s Learning Commons is dedicated to the memory of her parents, Joseph L. and Emily K. Gidwitz, z”l.

Additionally, Betsy's generosity has allowed over 100 of our alumni to experience the Israel extension trip, a cherished jewel in the crown of a CJDS education. Betsy’s dedication to Israel education, education in general, and the continuity of the Jewish people is unparalleled. We are grateful beyond words for her involvement in our school.

Last but not least, there is a beautiful article in the JUF magazine "Jewish Chicago" titled "Chicago's Cooks Turn to their Forebears for Recipes and Connection." The article shares how some Chicagoans honor the memories of family members by celebrating their culture through cooking. Our very own Esther Solooki describes how she now carries on her family's Mizrahi culture by cooking for her friends. Esther was our Director of Annual Giving for several years, and although she no longer works at CJDS, Esther will always remain a part of the CJDS community, along with so many others who still care about and support us.

There are many modern day miracles that provide us with the light that, during Hanukkah in particular, gives us pause to appreciate all that we have. Chag sameach to all of you!