In honor of Hanukkah, I wanted to share a story that warmed my heart and reminded me to cherish this season of renewal. This story tells how an unlit menorah was able to magnify the light of Hanukkah all around the world.
In 1931, a woman named Rachel Posner took a photograph that would become one of the most famous in the world. The wife of a rabbi in Kiel, Germany, the photo was of her family’s menorah on the windowsill…with a Nazi flag hanging across the street in the background.
It would become the perfect symbol of how light will always triumph over darkness.
Rachel’s family fled Germany in 1933 to what would become Israel. She took the menorah with her. Although the photograph became a sensation all over the world, the Posner descendants had no desire to go to Germany, the place where their family had been persecuted or died in the Holocaust. However, that changed when the mayor of Kiel wrote to them personally inviting them to visit an exhibition about Jewish life in the city. Told through their family’s history, the exhibit would also showcase Rachel’s historic photo.
So, Rachel’s descendants decided to visit and brought the menorah with them. Rachel’s granddaughter, Nava Gilo, shared how her late grandmother would be amazed to know they returned to Germany because of her photograph. Her grandmother could not have known how far her photo would resonate. Ms. Gilo said, “It was a complicated decision, to come here. I had mixed feelings about going to Germany.”
The exhibit was entitled, ‘Show Light’. The purpose was to raise awareness against hate, specifically antisemitism. Ms. Gilo was proud to say one of her family’s reasons to visit Germany was “to work against the hate.”
After returning to Kiel for Hanukkah in 2022, it was then moved to Berlin. There, at the official residence of Germany’s president, it was lit in a special ceremony of reconciliation.
During the menorah lighting on the windows ledge at Berlin’s Grand Bellevue Palace, the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier remarked, “...today, we see that 90 years after this menorah was last lit in Germany, there is once again a daily Jewish life here. We are experiencing the wonderful gift of reconciliation.”
There is great power in reconciliation. It addresses injustice, it shows an intention to acknowledge the suffering of the past, and it strives to bridge relationships in the future.
Reconciliation as defined by psychologist terms is: the process of repairing and rebuilding a relationship that has experienced conflict, hurt, or a breakdown in trust. It involves addressing the issues that caused the rift, fostering open communication, and working towards restoring mutual understanding, respect, and harmony.
But there can be no reconciliation without remembrance. The act of inviting the Posner family to be able to participate in the renewal of the story of their ancestors is monumental. The city of Kiel offering to illuminate their shared history with the world is crucial. The journey of the menorah returning to Germany brings hope to many who have a similar family history there.
Like reconciliation, Hanukkah gives us the opportunity for healing and the restoration of positive relationships. This time of year, it reminds us that we, too, can be renewed. Hanukkah gives hope in times of darkness. Much like the menorah that once stood against the backdrop of a troubling past, Hanukkah invites us to kindle the flames of positive change towards a brighter future. It reminds us that shining a light, however small, can make a tremendous impact on the world.
May this Hanukkah be a time of joy, reflection, warmth, reconciliation, and hope for us all. On behalf of Tina, Kara and myself, for those that celebrate, we wish you a happy Hanukkah!