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Add More Light: Jeannie Blaustein

Jewish tradition teaches that when lighting the hanukkiyah, we should always start with one candle and add more candles each night because we should be engaged in a practice of adding more light to the world and not decreasing it. As we celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, BJ rabbis and members reflect on the ways they have experienced the power of light being added to their world. In this season, while the days at their darkest, we hope these words allow you to find new light added to your own celebration of Hanukkah.

How do we understand transformation? How can light enter a world bathed in so much darkness?

Last year, on the 8th day of Hanukkah, my own little world was collapsing into darkness as I went into surgery for a newly diagnosed case of advanced ovarian cancer. I was filled with dread for my surgery and chemotherapy, and I was worried about my family. I didn’t believecouldn’t believeI would survive the cancer or the tsunami of fear that was crashing over me, and I was grasping for something to carry me swiftly out of the dark place into which I’d suddenly descended. I didn’t know how I would make it through each day without guarantees, without something as dramatic and irrefutable as a lightning bolt, to reassure me that I’d be okay.

My doctor’s post-op instructions were simple and seemingly insufficient: “Walk,” he said. “Every day.” I thought he was insane. With an incision stretching the full length of my torso, the idea of walking seemed utterly absurd. And yet, walk I did. During those first days in the hospital, my beloved husband, Peter, and daughters walked the halls with me, pushing my IV along, holding my arm for supportjust a few steps out and then back to my bed. Once home, I struggled to walk first to the kitchen, eventually to the corner. I had never noticed that there’s a slight incline on my street; I could barely reach the top. After some days, Peter and I gingerly made our way around the entire block. Soon after, I tried to do that route alone and nearly passed out at the halfway point. I wasn’t ready.

The coldest days of winter came, chemo started, and I kept walking, some days a little more, some days less. Healing isn’t a straight line. As the walks got longer, I started trusting myself to go without Peter, and close friends and family joined me instead. Often, we’d end up sitting on a bench when my strength waned. 

Every single day since last December 6th, with scant exception, I have heeded my surgeon’s advice. I have breathed in the air, rejoiced in the changing light of the year; now, remarkably, back to the cool, angular light of winter. The new colors of each season brought not only delight but also comfort, evidence that time was passing, and reminders that I am still here. Every walk grew sweeter, infused with deepening gratitude for the simple fact of being alive. With each breath, my heart expanded to receive the kindness and love extended to me during this tender time. Sometimes, it has felt like life itself was putting on my socks and shoes. 

There was no lightning bolt. There are still no guarantees. But I am grateful that my year has been marked by slow steps toward tomorrow, toward love, toward life. It turns out, I now understand, light can enter our hearts gently, quietly, one step at a time.  

May each of us be carried forward by the sheer force of life when we need it the most, bringing us gently toward beauty, gratitude, and a reverence for the miracle of every day.

Read more kavannot.