Pondering the power of Chanukah in a pandemic

Jewish children from 18 different schools participated in Maimonides Jewish Day School’s fourth annual essay contest on how to help their community in today’s challenging times. 
MJDS in Southwest Portland announced the two winners (read essays below) of Oregon’s fourth annual Chanukah Essay Contest on Dec. 7. They were selected by three judges – award-winning children’s authors Trudy Ludwig and Eric Kimmel and journalist Jenn Director Knudsen.
Shira Wilhelm, 10, a fifth-grader at Maimonides Jewish Day School, is the winner in the third- through fifth-grade category. Steven Rogosin, 12, a sixth-grader at The Marylhurst School, submitted the winning essay among students in sixth through eighth grades.
This year’s participating students responded in 150 words or less to the following: The Festival of Lights celebrates how the Maccabees found the strength to overcome difficult obstacles their community faced. How can you help support your community of friends and family in today’s challenging times?
For sharing their thoughts, Shira and Steven each will receive $200, $150 of which is a cash prize, with the additional $50 for the students to gift to the school of their choice. 
In prior years, the winning students also have enjoyed lunch with contest judges. Ludwig and Kimmel aren’t letting COVID-19 stop that; they are lunching with the young writers – via Zoom, of course – on Dec. 13. The authors also are giving the winning students a signed copy of one of their books. Ludwig selected for both Shira and Steven Gifts from the Enemy, and Kimmel’s choice for the young writers is Harry and the Hanukkah Goblins.
Ludwig says this about Shira’s essay: “She did a lovely job capturing how she can help others, even though she’s not a grown-up, by turning her community concerns into caring action.”
About Steven’s work, Kimmel says, “Steven’s essay reminds us to think about our actions, to seek out accurate information to make sure that we are making the right decisions. As he points out, we cannot always rely on leaders. ... Today, our weapons are science, knowledge and doing what we believe is best for everyone.”
“Going ahead this year with the contest was a great way to find good in every opportunity, at any time,” says  Rabbi Shneur Wilhelm, principal of Maimonides Jewish Day School, which launched the annual contest that now has been replicated at other schools across the country. MJDS is an accredited, kindergarten through 8th-grade school committed to teaching the whole child. “The positive and inspiring thoughts and ideas students shared are a reminder to find the blessing within the hardship, the opportunity within the challenge.” 
The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland helped support the contest with cash prizes. President and CEO Marc Blattner says, “The Jewish Federation is proud to support this essay contest encouraging young people to expand their horizons and create thoughtful responses to important questions. Congratulations to the essay contest winners. Thank you for your impactful and inspiring words.”

This year’s entries came from Maimonides Jewish Day School, Richmond Elementary School, Metro East Web Academy, Nigri Shluchim Online School, Portland Jewish Academy, Durham Elementary School, The Marylhurst School, Le Monde  French Immersion Public Charter School, Catlin Gabel School, Abernethy Elementary School, Odyssey Program at East Sylvan, Maplewood Elementary School, Kelly Middle School in Eugene, Sunset Primary School, Lake Grove Elementary School, Buckman Elementary School, ACCESS @ Lane Middle School and from a student who is homeschooled.


As the number of cases was rising in Oregon, a friend of my family got COVID-19. It was quite serious and dangerous.
I’m only a young girl in fifth grade. I am not a nurse or a doctor, but I still can help.
l called my friend and checked to see if they had food, and I sent him videos wishing him well.
My friend messaged me back, “Thank you! You made my day!”
During quarantine, another woman in our community was alone, and each Wednesday I called her to share stories of the Torah.
My grandfather had a kidney transplant and needs to be careful, so sometimes I help them by bringing things to their house.
I can help my community by caring for other people and letting them know that I think about them.
Chanukah celebrates light, and whenever it is dark, I can help my community by lighting a candle.

This year has been hard! It is also different from other years. This year, it’s more important than ever to support your community, friends and family through these trying times.
Today, we face a different problem than the Maccabees had. Instead of fighting with weapons, we are forced to fight a novel virus called COVID-19 with masks, social distancing and hand washing. 
The Maccabees also faced pressure from their rulers on how to live their lives in ways that threatened their survival. Today, our leaders don’t always give good advice. We must make sure to listen to experts and science.
Today, our scientists have advised us in ways to limit the spread of the virus. These are also times to support your community by giving to charity and tzedakah, being nice to neighbors and family. Don’t give up, because the Maccabees survived and we can too!


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