The Chanukah season is really a time of contradictions. Winter has just started, it gets dark early, the weather has turned cold and rainy. Depression and anxiety are on the rise during the dark winter season. The school year is in full swing bringing a barrage of tests and homework. In fact, about 5% of Americans (or an estimated 10 million people) suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) where they experience symptoms of depression or anxiety during the colder darker months of the year.
And in the midst of this exact time comes the yom tov of Chanukah- ironically known as the Festival of Lights. Suddenly, houses are aglow with lights, music, dancing, and presents- a special simcha that permeates our homes specifically during this time. And Chanukah itself is the holiday of contradictions. The army of the few defeating the mightiest army in the world, the tiny amount of oil lasting for eight days, the fight of the spiritual against the material.
I have observed over the years that even the experience of Chanukah is a time of contradiction for many. Kids look forward to Chanukah all year long, fly high with excitement, and love every minute of it. I remember when I was younger Chanukah was my absolute favorite Yom Tov of the year. But as you get older, some of the magic fades. There are no days off of work, no big meals to plan, and no break from everyday work. Aside from candle lighting, it becomes harder and harder to feel the magic of this time when you are still stuck in your daily routine. And yet, for me, even as I struggle to feel the simcha I once felt, when the candles are lit and I look at those flames dancing, there is no denying that something in my heart and soul flickers inside. That simcha, though harder to access, is certainly not completely dormant.
This year, more than any other, the entire Jewish nation heads into Chanukah with our hearts full of contradictory feelings. We are worried, scared, angry and full of anxiety for our brothers and sisters in Israel. Our prayers are with our hostages and their families and our soldiers and their families. And yet we are full of relief and happiness for those hostages that have finally been freed and returned to their families. We are scared of what is happening in the world around us, yet we have never felt prouder to be part of the Jewish nation. We are being attacked and trodden on and yet we are standing tall b’achdus and united in ways we have not seen in a very long time.
At Madraigos, we have a front-row view to the many varied responses people are experiencing to these tragedies. Mothers, fathers, teenagers, and children - each one is going through his or her own unique experience. There are those who are suffering from anxiety and trauma, fear and depression, who are reaching out for help for themselves and their families. There are parents who want to shield their children from what is happening yet have family members in Israel and in the army. There are teenagers who are involved in chessed projects and tefilos and yet also want to live their lives and not feel guilty for being happy and “normal”. There are those who have deleted social media accounts not wanting to expose themselves to images and videos they will never forget, and those who feel the need to see everything in order to truly feel the pain of those who are on the front lines of suffering.
And while every reaction is different, every reaction is valid and every reaction needs to be addressed individually. Therefore, at Madraigos, we have created and innovated various responses to the war effort to address the different needs we are seeing in the community. Our Boy’s Lounge holds discussion groups and engages in musical healing for the boys that want that connection. Our Ignight Girls do not want to focus on the war so we created a safe space for them where individual discussions with the facilitators are open and welcome while the group engages in creative art expressions allowing for the safety and separate focus that they wanted. Rabbi Dr. Dovid Felt, our Director of School-Based Services, created three new Project-Based Learning curriculums that are available to every school for their students focusing on vicarious trauma, social media, and responses to antisemitism. Rabbi Dr. Dovid Felt is also offering free mental health first aid training to parents, therapists, and educators who may have concerns about some symptoms their children, students or clients are experiencing. The Madraigos clinical staff is forming a DBT group for high school-age girls and continuing to provide individualized free assessments and referrals for anyone in need.
The most important message to take from Chanukah is the following. We can feel pain and happiness, pride and defeat, despair and hope all at the same time. We are a people with hearts big enough to hold it all. Chanukah is a time of contradictions because this world is a world of contradictions. And while everything may seem dark and hopeless, if we look in the windows of the Jewish people, we will see sparks of light shining out, ready to show the world that we will not give up. We will stand strong and we will survive and we will thrive. Every day our light will continue to grow. And iy”H soon we will merit to see this world full of Hashem’s light and all of the darkness and contradictions dispelled.
Learn more about Madraigos’ programs and services at www.madraigos.org or call 516-371-3250.