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Hebrew Academy Student Wins National Hanukkah Essay Contest

Monday, 18 December, 2017 - 8:05 pm

Elias Greenwood reading essay Imagine getting flown to the nation’s capital to celebrate Hanukkah for winning a national essay contest. Now imagine getting to light a massive menorah while there. That is something magical that recently happened for one of our students right here at Hebrew Academy.

            Winning a national essay contest to light the nation’s largest menorah on the first night of Hanukkah was one of our own. Hebrew Academy fourth grader Elias Greenwood flew to our nation’s capital at the beginning of Hanukkah to light the National Menorah, run by The National Menorah Council, a project of American Friends of Lubavitch. Greenwood’s winning of the Rabbi Mendy Deren Memorial National Menorah Essay Contest for 3rd-4th graders allowed him to go to Washington, DC. Mushka Landa from Connecticut won the contest amongst 5th-6th graders.

             Greenwood discussed the importance of Hanukkah to him and his family in his contest-winning essay. “Chanukah is about connecting with our Judaism and ancestors,” Greenwood wrote. “We can connect through our stories and our celebration of Hanukkah. Through lighting the Menorah, or other customs for Hanukkah, like getting together with family and friends, we can be transported to times in the past, when past generations celebrated Hanukah the same way we are in 2017.”

            Greenwood also wrote about Hanukkah’s history and its relationship to his life. "When I think of the small group of Jewish Maccabees fighting the large Greek army, it reminds me that it does not matter what I face in my life, no matter how big I think the problem. By facing big problems even as a small person, if I focus on my faith and my strength, I can be successful."

             In closing, he spoke of Jewish pride and Jewish history: "It is an important Chanukah message to remember to be proud of being Jewish and to find meaning within our history."

             Greenwood’s win is no surprise, as the Hebrew Academy has “invested in numerous writing curricula and provides on-going professional development to teachers to ensure that our students have access to the most current and top-notch writing programs,” says Dr. Brenda Harari, principal of the Hebrew Academy of Huntington Beach.  “We have created a unique and highly specialized writing program that draws on the passion and personal connection that each of our students feel to the Judaic curriculum, to inspire the writing instruction that happens in the General Studies program.”

            "I learned a lesson from Elias: ‘Believe you can, and you will!’,” said Elias Greenwood’s mother, Dr. Hilary Buff. “A special thank you to Rabbi Naparstek, Ms. Rim, Rabbi Popack, and Mr. Sofer for helping Elias grow so much this year. Thank you to all of the teachers and staff at the Hebrew Academy for inspiring Elias daily."

            We at are proud of Elias Greenwood and his education here at Hebrew Academy. For the full text of his essay, you can read it below the video, in which he reads his essay from 28:25-32:18:

"What does Hanukkah mean to me?"

What does Hanukkah mean to me? Sure, on the surface I can spend time with my family and get presents and play games. Hanukkah, like the onions my mom uses for latkes, has more layers than just having fun. Hanukkah has layers of stories untold. During Hanukkah, we can connect with not just our families, but our Jewish souls and Jewish communities. 

Hanukkah has a lot of different symbols. Latkes, Jelly donuts, time off of school, blue and white cookies, and, for some families, presents. Is that what Hanukkah is all about, presents and donuts? No, Hanukkah is about connecting with our Judaism and ancestors. We can connect through our stories and our celebration of Hanukkah. Through lighting the Menorah, or other customs for Hanukkah, like getting together with family and friends, we can be transported to times in the past, when past generations celebrated Hanukkah the same way we are in 2017.

One part of the Hanukkah history that I was taught, and has stayed with me through the years, is that Jews had to hide they were Jewish and hid our Torahs from the Greek soldiers. When I think of the small group of Jewish Maccabees fighting the large Greek army, it reminds me that it does not matter what I face in my life, no matter how big I think the problem. By facing big problems even as a small person, if I focus on my faith and my strength, I can be successful.

We also learn, as Jews, that our faith sometimes means that we have to sacrifice for being Jewish. For me, this means that I do not worry about not celebrating other holidays or missing out on because I do not celebrate other customs from other religions. My Grandmother, my Bubbe, grew up during World War II and could not celebrate Hanukkah in freedom. Another example, Shimon, one of the Maccabees, sacrificed his life for the Jewish people. It is an important Hanukkah message to remember to be proud of being Jewish and to find meaning within our history.

I feel so proud for my Grandmother to be able to celebrate Hanukkah in freedom in the United States and see so many children enjoy a holiday she could never celebrate growing up in Europe. Many people had to go without and sacrificed their loved ones, so that I can celebrate in freedom as Jewish American young man. I wish you and your loved ones, a meaningful and happy Hanukkah.

 

 

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