Hanukkah is nicknamed Feast of Lights in English, although the Hebrew word means Dedication. Celebrating the experience of the Maccabees who rededicated the Jerusalem Sanctuary after expelling the Greek enemies, Hanukkahs 8 days commemorate the one little bottle of oil that they found to fuel the Eternal Light the only one that still bore the unbroken seal of the High Priest. As the familiar Talmudic narrative goes, the bottle contained only enough oil to burn for one day, but miraculously it lasted 8 days. That certainly qualifies as a dedication worth celebrating.
This year I am grateful to observe two dedications, commemorating people who were significant in my life and in many other lives as well. And Hanukkah is a perfect time to do this.
On the eve of the 4th day we dedicated a Ner Tamid an Eternal Light not in Solomons Temple but in a fine heymish neighborhood Shul called Bais Bezalel where I usually spend Shabat mornings. Led by its Rabbi Binyomin Lisbon whom I am proud to call my friend, we honored my teacher of blessed memory, Abraham Zevi Idelsohn. Cantor, composer, researcher and teacher, he pioneered the entire field of Jewish Musicology, gathering the vocal traditions of global Jewry and making them available to the world of music. (More about him and his career in a column on my website, http://cantorabbi.com ) Today, an organization called the Idelsohn Society concentrates on Jewish vinyl records. And a new film celebrates a song he introduced to the world now easily the best-known Jewish song ever Hava Nagilah. Like the Ner Tamid, Idelsohns light still shines.
The next day we dedicated a Mezuzah on a doorpost of Chabad House of Los Angeles, in memory of a dear friend and colleague of mine, Rabbi/Cantor David Kane. His talent and his guidance as a clergyman and leader of prayer influenced many Jews in Southern California. Before coming here, however, Davids life was very different. From Bendzin, Poland, he was taken to a concentration camp as a young boy. There he survived by joining other Jewish boys in singing for the camp commandant. There he found himself when the camp was liberated, guiding the conquering American general through the hideous surroundings he and others endured. That generals name was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Observing the 65th anniversary of that liberation, the German government invited David and his wife Yetta to take part in the ceremony. Both being survivors, they spent his last years speaking about the Holocaust in schools, and wrote a book about their experiences. Yetta continues that activity, honoring Davids life. Just imagine a man with this kind of history, loving and performing music, enjoying a model marriage and a devoted family, and taking great joy in making people laugh. That was my friend David Kane. We shared singing in cantorial ensembles, we studied with the same scholar who ordained us both, and we took delight in each others nakhes. His name will honor this Chabad House doorway. Joining me in honoring his memory this Hanukkah were my wife Claire, Yetta Kane and son Jerry Kane, Rev. and Mrs. Schmidt from Germany who met the Kanes at that 65th anniversary of liberation, and representing Chabad was Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, the brilliant and irrepressible leader of the Lubavitch movement in the West.
Of course it is no coincidence that both of these dedications take place on the 4th Hanukkah day. That day is the birthday of my youngest grandchild, Cipora Angie Cohon. So in her honor also, we dedicate this holiday to good memories, good plans, good Jews.