It's Wednesday 7:00 p.m. the fourth night of Chanukah. After lighting the Menorah and having some latkes with the family, it was time to pack up and head out. The weather was really bad. It was snowing, the roads were covered in ice, and the winds made it almost impossible to see. But I really didn't want to miss this appointment, because I knew there wouldn't be another opportunity.
So I got into my car a little bit early and headed to the Air Force Base. I took a right and passed the sign that said Federal prison camp Duluth Minnesota, and buzzed the intercom. "Hi it's Rabbi Ross, I'm here for the Jewish service." After being buzzed through I went to the command center, signed in, and headed to the chapel. "Hey it's nice to see you!" I said to Joe (not his real name), "Happy Chanukah!"
Our usual room where we usually meet was being used by another group, so we opened the locker where the Jewish supplies were kept, took out the book of matches and a Menorah, and headed down the hallway. We found a small room where a few men were using computers to email their friends and family. We put our Menorah and candles on the table and used the room divider so we can have some privacy. We took out a yarmulke, put the candles in the Menorah, said the blessings and tried to light it. But the candles wouldn't light! Try as we might match after match the candles just wouldn't ignite. Apparently after sitting in my car in -10° weather the candles had frozen and it was going to take a little bit of effort. Noticing they were only two matches left, and being late at night the chaplain wasn't there to get more matches, I started to get worried. But thank God this time the candles lit! And there we sat in a federal prison singing Maoz tzur and I had a little dreidel. We talked about the message of Chanukah, how we wait for darkness to light the menorah, showing how the darkness itself gives way for the light.
Sitting in a prison, a place of darkness, the message had more meaning than when I was sitting at home with my own Menorah just a few hours before. Yes, it takes a little more effort to bring light to a place of extreme darkness, but it gave way to a beautiful light.