By Danny Kladnitsky
If you were looking for the guy who encourages others to do religion, I probably wouldn’t be your first guess. I am a real estate professional in Minneapolis. I don’t come from an observant background, and I am certainly no rabbi. But in the weeks before this Chanukah, I have been giving out menorahs to friends, family and acquaintances so they could kindle the traditional candles during the holiday.
I know, it’s the type of thing Chabad rabbis and rebbetzins do. In fact, I am getting the kits from Rabbi Sholom and Mushky Brook of Chabad Young Professionals in Minneapolis. But I believe it isn’t just for them to do. It’s for me to do. It’s for you to do.
When I first heard about Chabad’s Ambassadors Of Light program, I was a little intimidated. Give out menorah kits to friends and family? I don’t want to build a reputation of being pushy or overbearing.
But then I thought of my grandfather, Dedushka Igor (Yisrael). He passed away a few months ago, right before COVID upended our lives.
You would have loved him. Dedushka came to the US from Russia. He lived under the harsh rule of the Soviet Union. Expressions of Judaism were absolutely forbidden and he dutifully toed the party line out of necessity.
But he was a Maccabee of sorts.
Every year before Passover, my otherwise religiously-indifferent grandfather would secretly procure illegal matzah on the black market. And he’d then distribute them to friends and family under the noses of the Soviets. It was pretty much their only link to Judaism.
It’s surprising. He just wasn’t that type of guy. He could have reasoned that the potential punishment if caught was too harsh, or he could have excused himself saying that he wasn’t a rabbi, or even very observant, and he doesn’t like pushing people.
But he knew it was the right thing to do.
And I know it too.
Dedushka was giving out matzah under pain of exile to the labor camps or even death because he knew this little mitzvah had great impact. And he wasn’t content with getting some matzah just for himself, he cared about the spiritual well-being of others. He wanted to make a difference for those around him too, even if it was dangerous.
It turns out, the brave struggle fought by our modern Maccabees, like Dedushka Igor, bore fruit for their grandchildren and kept Judaism alive for us today. The Seleucid Empire and Communist Soviets are history, but we’re still here. And we must persevere.
So I called back Rabbi Brook, and I told him to count me in as an Ambassador of Light. I swung by the Chabad House, picked up my box of Menorah kits, and now I am part of the thousands of Jews spreading a little light in this spiritual darkness by giving out menorahs – in a free land that celebrates diversity – and with so little effort. After all the original and modern-day Maccabees did to get us to this point, how could I not?
So here I am, with around thirty-five kits delivered to friends, family, coworkers and even my parents’ friends. I was surprised by the response – everyone I offered one to (personally or over social media) was not only pleasant but gratified, even touched. Some said they’d been thinking about lighting the menorah but hadn’t known where to find one. Some said they wouldn’t have thought to celebrate otherwise. Overall, it’s been a great experience.
This is an observance everyone can relate to – even people who don’t practice Judaism on a daily basis. You can literally light a spark in a soul and make a real, positive impact, especially in a time as dark as now. All it takes is a post on social media.
I am sure Dedushka would be proud of me. I am sure your grandparents would be too.
Danny Kladnitsky is a real estate professional and a local leader at Chabad Young Professionals of Minneapolis, MN. To learn more about the Mitzvah Ambassadors program, visit cypambassadors.com.