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October 24, 2014 / 30 Tishri, 5775
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Making Sweet Lemonade Out Of Bitter Lemons

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Let me begin by congratulating my dear machatunim, Soraya and Jay Nimaroff, on being the recipients of the Community Service Award at the Sderot Hesder Institutions 18th annual anniversary dinner.

As a token of the organization’s appreciation, Jay and Soraya were gifted with a unique Chanukah menorah – rather than being made out of silver or pewter, the menorah was constructed from a Qassam rocket, one of thousands that have rained down on the innocent residents of the town of Sderot.

Tragically and senselessly, the citizens of Sderot have had to live with fear on a daily basis for years, not knowing if that day would bring the death of a friend or loved one, or if they themselves would be the one whose lives were cut short prematurely and violently.

Initially, when I heard that the menorah was made from the steel of a missile, my first reaction was, “What? A gift made out of scrap metal?”

A split second later, however, I was gifted with a bright flash of clarity and insight and realized how incredibly brilliant and uplifting this menorah actually was.  Parts of a weapon created by evil men to wreak havoc had instead been fashioned into a 1,000-year-old symbol of light, hope and the eternity of the Jewish people.

The Chanukah menorah has been an enduring testament to the resilience, faith and tenacity of Klal Yisrael, to their willingness to stand up to and thwart the malicious plots, plans and schemes of their enemies who over the centuries, have tried – and continue to try – to erase them, either through physical decimation or spiritually through forced conversion or open-armed invitation.

The menorah is forever linked with a devout family of priests, the Maccabim, led by their father, Mattityahu, who refused to submit to the will of the Assyrian Greeks who had conquered the land of Israel and wished to Hellenize the vanquished natives: Their agenda was to motivate the Jews – through coercion or cultural attrition – to turn their backs on their own religion and spiritual values and absorb the Greek pagan ones. The Maccabim rallied like-minded Jews and miraculously were able to defeat the mighty Greek forces and oust them from the land.  They then went about the sacred task of cleansing and purifying the Beit HaMikdash and re-lighting the menorah, using a flask of kosher oil that lasted way past its 24-hour “expiration date” for an additional week, the time needed to produce more kosher oil.

Chanukah and its symbol, the menorah, have been a symbol of resistance, defiance and optimism in the face of the overwhelming odds against Jewish survival.

There are documented stories of Jewish heroism in the face of death in the camps, where inmates risked their lives to celebrate Chanukah using rags or hollowed out potatoes to create a makeshift menorahs lit by a single smuggled match. With a lookout to warn if there were any Nazi guards approaching, Jews in the barracks fervently recited the Chanukah blessings over their “candles” – boldly proclaiming that Hashem created miracles for their fathers and would do so for them.

A Chanukah menorah made of a weapon created to kill and mutilate civilians, and demolish homes, schools, businesses and houses of worship will burn brightly in a front window in the Nimeroff home for every passerby to see and glean its message of faith, courage and optimism.  How inspiring!

This menorah of light fashioned out of the darkness of hatred is a classic example of converting “lemons into lemonade.”  Figuratively, this means taking a bad or tragic situation and creating something good or positive out of it.

When faced with a life-changing tragedy, the ones afflicted have three options: They can let the horrific event destroy them; they can just absorb and accept what happened and adapt to their new reality living their lives in a “business-as-usual” kind of way or they can tenaciously pursue a course of action that will result in extreme good and have a tremendously positive and beneficial impact on others – the ultimate tikun olam.

So many people, for example, who lost children have created gemachachim or chesed organizations that have financially and/or emotionally enhanced the lives of so many.

One example is Dor Yeshorim, an organization that discretely tests young people in the shidduch parsha for recessive genes that can result in fatal diseases if both are carriers.  It was launched years ago by Rabbi Yosef Eckstein, who lost four children to Tay Sachs, a particularly insidious disease. Babies with Tay-Sachs initially grow normally and thrive, but gradually their physical and mental abilities deteriorate and they regress. Eventually they lose their ability to see, hear, swallow and move, and often die by age four.  Tay Sachs is one of several diseases caused by mutated genes found in Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe.

Dor Yeshorim has prevented much grief, anguish and emotional devastation by allowing potential couples to make an informed choice in terms of their shidduch compatibility, and has been instrumental in significantly reducing new cases of Tay Sachs in the community. Out of the bitter lemon that a young father had been forced to swallow emerged life-enhancing lemonade due to his fortitude in creating  a huge good out of  tragedy.

AT.I.M.E, an organization dedicated to helping heimishe couples navigate the confusing, overwhelming and frustrating journey of infertility, was founded by Rav Shaul and Brany Rosen who initially found themselves in this difficult parsha and resolved to help others attain their dream of building a bayit ne’eman.

AT.I.M.E has become an invaluable resource in providing vital information as well as spiritual, emotional and financial support to couples on this stressful journey to parenthood.  Hundreds upon hundreds of babies have been born because the Rosens decided to convert their difficult, soul-stressing situation into an organization that, like lemonade on a hot day, has quenched the  torturous emotional thirst of countless couples  yearning for children.

The Koby Mandell Foundation was launched 12 years ago by Sherri and Seth Mandell, the parents of 13 year old Koby Mandell, who was brutally and senselessly murdered by terrorists.  Its multifaceted programs are designed to help the devastated mothers, fathers, widows, widowers, orphans and siblings who have lost loved ones through violence, and help them transform the pain and suffering of tragedy into positive personal growth.

Ordinary people with extraordinary mesirat nefesh were able to “grow” goodness from the acrid soil of extreme loss, sorrow and hopelessness.

May we all be blessed with the faith and fortitude to convert our “Qassams” into menorahs full of light.

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