- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Members of Conservative Jewish synagogues in North America will see something different on social media this Hanukkah: Messages touting four co-religionists whose social activism might evoke memories of the original Hebrew campaigners who rid ancient Israel of pagan influences.

A new social media team at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism put the online campaign together in a matter of weeks, said Melanie Felsman, spokeswoman for the denomination, one of the three main branches of Judaism in the U.S.

Those in the holiday social media spotlight are involved in refugee resettlement, fair housing, systemic solutions for climate change and inclusive Jewish education for students with diverse learning needs, she said.

Hanukkah, which begins Sunday evening, is celebrated for eight days to mark a miraculous batch of consecrated oil used in the Second Temple after the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the second century BCE. Faced with a one-day supply of the oil, used in a candelabra in the temple, the fuel lasted for eight days until a new batch could be ritually prepared.

The holiday, which is not recorded in the Hebrew Bible, is noted in other ancient sources, including the Mishna, a record of Jewish oral traditions. By rebelling against the pagan Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Maccabees stood up for religious liberty, many believe.

Ms. Felsman said the miraculous nature of the holiday, in which Jews light a nine-branched candelabra called a Hanukkiah, inspired the social media effort.

“We were talking about doing something for Hanukkah other than just the traditional message from the CEO, or picture of candles,” she said. “We wanted to see if we can come up with something impactful that would be run as a digital campaign.”

What the group “came up with is Hanukkah miracles and triumphs,” Ms. Felsman said. “What we are doing is starting Nov. 29, through Dec. 5, there are four different people we are profiling, based on their ‘miracles.’

“Four was [because] we went with the sides of the dreidel,” she added, referring to a small spinning top children play with during the holiday.

On the morning of Nov. 29, Mira Mendick, a volunteer coordinator for HIAS, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1881, will be honored for helping resettle Afghan refugees in Charlotte, North Carolina, Ms. Felsman said.

The next day, Kristin Gorin, who is a member of her USCJ synagogue’s board in Richmond, Virginia, will be recognized for her work in lobbying for affordable housing funds in the state’s capital city.

Andy Weissfeld, a rabbinical student in Philadelphia, is the subject of the Dec. 2 social media message. Mr. Weissfeld is campaigning for “climate action,” USCJ said.

The final honoree is Rebecca Redner, a Jewish special educator in Brookline, Massachusetts, who helps students such as “Gil,” who is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, using technology and her teaching skills.

Ms. Redner told the organization a high school experience as a Sunday school aide for children with disabilities kindled her interest in special education. “I loved the way that my student constantly challenged me to be creative and think on my feet,” she is quoted as saying.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism says it is “the largest network of Conservative Jews in the world,” and claims 1.35 million adherents in North America.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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