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Rabbi Jamie’s Corner
December 2022

Hanukkah, the “Festival of Lights,” begins tonight. We celebrate by lighting the festive hannukiah (Hanukkah menorah) that warms our homes and brings light to the darkness at a time when it is pitch black by 6pm.

Bringing light to the darkness is an important message of Hanukkah. This time of the year often gets to me, as I know it does for many others. It gets dark earlier, the sun comes up later, and mornings are often below freezing in my neighborhood.

Darkness also comes in different forms; it isn’t only a lack of daylight. In our post-pandemic world, I am not quite sure what our “new normal” is, but the pre-pandemic world as I knew it, with its familiar rhythms and routines, is gone. Many folks have shifted to working remotely, and people tend to stay home a lot more than they go out. I find myself in a rebuilding phase, searching for new ways to grow community and to stay in contact with folks who I no longer see in person on a regular basis.

Depression and mental illness are a form of darkness. National statistics show a marked increase in mental health issues post-pandemic. But there is hope and help, which also comes in many different forms.

Hebrew Free Loan brings a particular kind of light and warmth to many who are facing darkness. While an interest-free loan can’t solve everything, it makes a big difference in relieving financial worry and assuring people that they have community support. For those dealing with the stress of a loved one with mental health issues, our special needs and health care loans help cover the costs of therapy or substance abuse rehab programs that often are not covered by insurance. Others are weighed down by the anxiety of trying to afford fertility treatments, continue an education, or launch a small business to provide for their families. We help make their dreams a reality.

Many of us feel we have to face crises in our lives alone. We often don’t share when mental illness touches a loved one or life’s stresses become too much. But I have found that sharing my own experience gives entrée for others to share theirs with me. In moments of stress, I have learned that I am not alone, and that knowledge brings light to the darkness.

Our team at Hebrew Free Loan often refers clients to organizations and programs who help bring light to the darkness. One such organization is P’tach Libeynu (Open our Hearts), which provides a monthly support group for family members of adults with mental illness. The group meets on Zoom with a licensed therapist and a teacher trained by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Participants find comfort, share coping skills, and learn about resources. The program is free, and people of all faiths are welcome.*

The songwriter Leonard Cohen, in his song Anthem, writes:
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

This Hanukkah, may the light of the candles warm your homes. This Hanukkah, may the light and warmth of community provide support to you through the darkness of difficult times. This Hanukkah, may you know that you are not alone.

*For more information on P’tach Libeynu, email karen@mmcohen.com.

Rabbi Jamie Hyams, our Development Director, received her rabbinic ordination in 2021 from the Academy for Jewish Religion | CA. We’ve asked Rabbi Jamie to occasionally share her perspective with our community. Jamie can be reached for questions, comments, or further dialogue at jamie@hflasf.org.

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