This year, Chanukah actually is early, at least a bit. Though Judaism has always embraced a lunar calendar, that lunar calendar is attached to the solar one as well. In Israel and parallel climate zones, the Pilgrimage Festivals are meant to take place at appropriate times for the first planting of barley (Passover), harvesting of the first fruits (Shavuot), and completion of the harvest (Sukkot). 

Chanukah is a little simpler. The average starting date of Chanukah in the way-too-complicated 19-year Jewish calendar is around December 12 or 13th. This means that, on average, the last night of Chanukah is just before the longest night of the year, which usually arrives on December 21st (the winter solstice and the formal start of winter). It is at this darkest time of the year that our chanukiyot are brightest, blazing with nine candles all aflame. 

It is too perfect a coincidence that the Torah reading we read on the Shabbat of Chanukah, usually Mikketz, which we read this year, begins in one of a number of dark places in which Joseph is forced to dwell. Last week’s Torah reading ended, after Joseph had spent time in the waterless well in Canaan and in an Egyptian jail, with Pharaoh’s baker having forgotten him there after Joseph correctly interpreted two dreams. This week is the story of Joseph moving from the darkness of that jail cell to the bright splendor of ruling the greatest nation in the world, Egypt, and then fulfilling his two dreams of last week by lording over his grovelling brothers who have come to beg for food in the midst of a massive famine.

Chanukah, then, sits on the ledge of our slow, annual descent into darkness, and the natural narrative of the coming weeks – longer days, eventual warmth, a return to the now-dormant agricultural cycle. It is a time for us to appreciate the human power of light and warmth as the natural world conspires against us with darkness and cold. It is a time for us to nudge God to turn the tide back towards spring as autumn formally concludes.

As the Jewish world uses Chanukah as a fulcrum to propel us forwards, away from the holiday-less months of Cheshvan and Kislev behind us and towards Tu Bishvat, Purim, and Passover, the year-round staff at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin turns a corner as well.  As camper applications continue to come in with regularity and eidot begin to fill up, most of our on-the-ground recruitment efforts completed, we now begin working on building the summer experience through three components: first and foremost, working with our campers and camper parents to ensure that a Ramah summer is maximally fun and engaging; second, recruiting, interviewing, and hiring staff; and third, putting in place another fun, exciting, challenging, and inspiring summer program.

We have already begun conversations with many of our adult staff members and prospective Roshei Eidah (unit heads). A group of our veteran counselors, led by veteran Rosh Eidah Josh Warshawsky, will be attending the National Ramah Commission’s Weinstein Counselor Training Institute at Ramah in California over winter break. We are beginning to schedule interviews for prospective staff members, from junior counselors to graduate students, and are casting our net wide to identify the best coaches, artists, performers, and educators to work with our campers throughout the summer. 

Wishing everyone a Happy Chanukah, a rejuvenating winter vacation, and looking forward to reconnecting as things really ramp up in January for the 2013 season at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.