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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Hanukah Light

Air Date: Week of

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Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb comments on a national movement to connect Hanukah, the festival of lights, to energy conservation.


CURWOOD: As the shortest day of the year draws near in the Northern Hemisphere, people around the world celebrate light amidst winter's darkness. For Jews, that's Hanukah, a fun, if not religiously significant holiday over eight days that ends this year on December 17th. And, according to commentator Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, across the United States, there's a new movement to tie this festival of lights to energy conservation.

SCHERLINDER DOBB: Today, when we think of Hanukah, we think of menorahs, dreidles, and presents. Actually, it all began in Israel in 163 BCE, when a rag-tag bunch called the Macabbees overthrew the mighty Greek Selucids, and rededicated the temple in Jerusalem with lights. The word "Hanukah" actually means dedication. Some 500 years after the Macabbees, the Rabbis, uncomfortable with the military might angle, told the now famous story of lights. In rededicating the temple the Macabbees found only one day's supply of pure oil, yet it lasted eight days, a miraculous 700 percent increase in energy efficiency.

The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, including most major groups in the Jewish community, has a campaign this Hanukah titled, "Let there be renewable light." Jews around the country are signing Hanukah pledges to rededicate ourselves to protecting the Earth. We're studying Jewish responses to global warming. We're taking one energy saving action for each night of the holiday, from having a candlelight dinner, to running one more errand on public transit, to contacting Congress about energy issues.

Back home, our synagogue is distributing special Hanukah presents: low-cost, compact, fluorescent bulbs, along with energy saving tips. Compact fluorescents use just one-fourth the energy of standard incandescent bulbs. That's halfway toward the Macabbee's eight-fold efficiency goal. And, simple steps, like improving our cars' fuel economy, can take us even closer.

Some people translate the Hebrew imperative "mitzvah" as "good deed," but it actually means "commandment." The way I see it, saving energy isn't just a good deed; it is a mitzvah in the true sense of the word, a moral and theological concern. The more energy we save, the less of creation we destroy.

More than 2000 years ago, the Rabbis say it took a miracle to make a little bit of energy go a long way. Today, all it takes is the everyday miracle of changing our ingrained habits to make Macabbeean strides toward energy efficiency. Now, that's something to think about as you light your menorah, or Christmas tree, or Kwanzaa lights, or solstice candle.

CURWOOD: Fred Scherlinder Dobb is the Rabbi of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, in Bethesda, Maryland.



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