A SLICE OF LIFE
THREE GENERATIONS OF LIGHT
By Yehudis Cohen
On September 11, 1974, the Rebbe introduced a campaign to inspire Jewish women and girls the world over to light candles for Shabbat. This special campaign was another weapon in the "war" the Rebbe was waging to eradicate darkness forever and bring the Redemption.
The Rebbe called this campaign "Neshek" - an acronym for Neirot Shabbat Kodesh - holy Shabbat candles. "Neshek" is also the Hebrew word for "weapon." "The light of candles lit by Jewish women and girls is our ammunition with which we battle against the dark forces of impurity," the Rebbe explained.
The Rebbe chose Mrs. Esther Sternberg to head the international candle lighting campaign, known from then on as Mivtza Neshek. "In the early years of the campaign," recalls Mrs. Sternberg, "Lubavitcher women and girls didn't leave home without Neshek. Like a soldier in the army who always has his gun at his side, Lubavitcher women and girls - soldiers in the Rebbe's army - were always 'armed' with candle sticks and candle lighting brochures."
Less than two years after the campaign commenced, in the journal of the 21st Annual Convention of the Lubavitch Women's Organization, a report on the outreach activities included: the distribution of over 550,000 candle sticks and 1,600,000 brochures; visits to 450 schools in New York city alone; 5,000 Jewish organizations contacted by mail; as well as radio and TV ads and billboards in Madison Square Garden.
Mrs. Sternberg has devotedly directed the campaign for over four decades. In addition to the continued growth of the outreach publicity ideas already mentioned, there were subway posters and newspaper ads, including the time for candle lighting on the front page of the New York Times for many years. Two essay contests, one in 1977 and one in 1979, encouraged girls to write about why candle lighting is important to them. The contests themselves publicized and promoted candle lighting. The winning essays became the books, "A Candle of My Own."
More recently, the internet and social media are being used to broaden the efforts to educate and inspire every Jewish woman and girl to light Shabbat candles. To this end, FridayLight.org was created in 2006.
What inspired Nechama Laber to put candle lighting at the forefront of her efforts to help Jewish girls and woman grow in their Jewish observance?
"Shabbat candles symbolize our whole mission as Jews and especially as Jewish women and girls. When you light Shabbat candles, you're not just lighting a candle, you're lighting up your soul and enabling your creative, unique light to shine in the world. When the Rebbe encouraged young girls to light Shabbat candles, already at age three or even before, the Rebbe was emphasizing that you're never too young to shine, to be a leader, to light up the world.
"Once a girl or woman finds her own inner candle, she makes Judaism her own. Then she can light up others and be a lamplighter. The Rebbe called women 'Ambassadors of Light.' Each person has a unique light that no one else has; we show gratitude to G-d for giving us our unique light by shining that light into our own corner of the world."
Nechama and her husband Rabbi Avraham Laber run Chabad-Lubavitch of Southern Rensselaer County. Nechama started a Bat Mitvza Club branch in Troy, New York, in 2001. Four years later, she established the Jewish Girls Retreat, a summer camp experience dedicating to providing a safe and loving environment where Jewish girls of all backgrounds can explore Judaism through the arts and nature.
The campers and staff at each year's JGR wanted more. They wanted the feeling of family, camp, and support for their creativity and Judaism all year long. And thanks to the internet and technology the desire became a reality through Jewish Girls Unite. In March 2015, Jewish Girls Unite was launched in honor of Meirah Schwartz's Bat Mitzvah. Over the next two years, Jewish Girls Unite, together with Mivtza Neshek, launched a candle lighting Essay Contest with the intent of producing a third book. The book would be called One More Light. They also created a website 1MoreLight.com.
Nechama explained the significance of the name. The essay contests in the 70s became the two books "A Candle of My Own," a title chosen by the Rebbe. "A candle of my own is personal, it's about making Judaism personal. It's not enough that the mother lights candles and that the grandmother lights. Each young Jewish girl needs to have her own independent, personal connection to Judaism.
"We decided to call this project 'One More Light,'" explains Nechama, "because once you've made Judaism personal - it's your mitzva, your light - then we can take it to the next level of touching one more person. The one person you inspire will light up another person, and that person another person, until every person and the whole world is lit up with light.
"Fire is a physical thing that has infinite possibility - one candle can light hundreds. Our souls are candles. Like candles, we can give to others without being diminished or extinguished. Sharing our light and our love transcends age, location, abilities."
Chava Dunn studies at Machon L'Yahadus, a yeshiva for young women in Crown Heights. Each Friday after school, she goes to different parts of Brooklyn or Manhattan to give out Shabbat candles to Jewish women and girls.
Born to American parents who immigrated to Israel, Chava was in the Israeli army after finishing high school. "Growing up, I had always dreamed of being a combat soldier. In actuality though, during my service, I was a 'support' soldier.
"I met Chabad when I was in Tzfat (Safed) searching for myself and my place in Judaism. Chabad girls used to come up to me on the street on Friday and give me Shabbat candles to light. Without being handed those candles week after week, I don't know if I'd be here today. I had become so disconnected that if I hadn't been handed the candles I wouldn't have lit them.
"As I became closer to Chabad, and especially after I started studying Chasidic philosophy, I began giving out candles on Fridays. The feeling I had when I walked in Tzfat with candles in my hands was that I was a soldier in combat! As a soldier in the IDF I had walked around with my gun at my side. But there on the streets of Israel, giving Jewish girls and women candles, I felt that I had an actual weapon with me. I felt like I was in the front lines - of a spiritual battle. And in this spiritual battle I have a very real and valuable weapon - Neshek - Shabbat candles.
"That's what motivates me every Friday, even when I don't feel like going. How can I stay home when any person's one good deed can be the one that will flip everything and bring the Redemption? No one knows whose good deed it's going to be. So I feel a huge responsibility. And I also feel that it's not me, Chava, going out - a lone soldier. I am a shaliach, an emissary of the Rebbe.
"Giving out candles in America is different than in Israel. When I go into Manhattan, I have no idea who is Jewish. I have to go out of myself and approach someone and find out if she is Jewish before I offer her Shabbat candles. And if she says that she is Jewish but don't want the candles, I know it is because in these final moments before Moshiach, the darkness doesn't want to give way to light, because it knows that soon it will be eradicated completely.
"The real war is to stand on Fulton Street, not in uniform or shooting a gun. It is a battle between me and something I can't see or touch. But I ask myself, 'How can I not do this?' Through these candles another Jewish girl or woman will do a mitzva. The world will be a brighter place. And maybe these candles will be the first step in her Jewish journey."
Toby Soffer, director of MyShabbosLight.com, tells about her project. "A businessman (who chooses to remain anonymous), was inspired by the Rebbe's words regarding the Redemption and decided to make some 'spiritual' investments with his business profits. The Rebbe would often quote our Sages that because of the righteous women the Jewish people left Egypt, and because of the righteous women in our generation, the Redemption will come.
"This man felt that lighting Shabbat candles can have the biggest impact on the world. The project started in Israel ten years ago and has now spread to the United States. Any Jewish woman or girl is eligible to receive a beautiful set of Shabbat candlesticks when they commit to lighting Shabbat candles each week."
Ready to shine your light? Eager to illuminate your corner of the world? Inspired to touch one person who will touch one person...go for it!
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