ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
A 2,000 year-old tradition was celebrated at Ellsworth Air Force Base after a 22-year hiatus.
On Dec. 19, 2017, the Chanukah menorah was lit in the Freedom Chapel – the first time since 1995. With the help of a great team and the support of the Ellsworth Chapel staff, I was fortunate to plan this incredible event. As a new addition to Ellsworth, I knew that organizing this lighting would not just make the holidays a little more homey for me, but for the entire close-knit Jewish community on base.
Our lighting opened with a welcome from Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz from the Chabad Jewish Center of South Dakota, who explained the story of Chanukah and the significance of the menorah.
The story of Chanukah commemorates the victory of the Jewish people when they battled against Syrian-Greek oppressors in the second century, B.C.E. To celebrate the victory, the Jewish people gathered in the Second Temple to light a menorah – a candelabra, but only had enough oil to keep the menorah lit for one night. A divine miracle, the oil lasted for eight days.
I was proud to hear the story of Chanukah, the story of my people, read to Airmen of all backgrounds. Our history is one of overcoming struggles and growing stronger as generations go on. Following the reading, Airmen from my Jewish community each took turns lighting the candles of the menorah. Each one of us, from different hometowns and different career fields, created this one magical experience. Lighting the totality of the menorah, contributing to the flickering candlelight that filled the room. Our small Jewish community is small in numbers, but for that moment, we had the opportunity to spread the light of the menorah. We could spread the joy we felt by experiencing Chanukah together, with the rest of our Ellsworth family.
Today, Jews around the world honor this miracle of light by lighting a menorah. For eight consecutive nights, we gather with friends, family, and our community to celebrate Chanukah.
Before I commissioned in the Air Force, every Chanukah was special. Latkes, or fried potato pancakes, were a family culinary affair, and we lit the menorah every night to commemorate the Jewish people’s past and celebrate our heritage. Chanukah was a time of togetherness. We reflected on the successes and triumphs of our community.
Now as an Airman, celebrating Chanukah is even more special. Even though it is challenging to be away from family in Texas, I can still light my own menorah and be a proud Jew. I can continue the Chanukah tradition that has been celebrated for centuries by sharing the light of Chanukah with Team Ellsworth. I can represent my people as an American Airman – perpetuating our traditions while serving our nation.
As a child, every night of Chanukah meant a small present from a relative (contingent on the rare occasion when I was well-behaved), the menorah now takes on a greater significance. Each night signifies another day of learning as a young officer and a further commitment to represent the Air Force as a Jew.
Even though the number of Jewish Airmen at Ellsworth number only a handful, the opportunity to practice our tradition and observe our faith at the lighting is an honor. As a member of a small Jewish community on-base, these celebrations bring Airmen together, across career fields, to share in what makes our faith unique. Each Jew at Ellsworth may contribute differently to our B-1 mission, but we all contribute to strengthening our religious community, Air Force and our nation.
No matter our background, as Airmen, we are provided a platform where we can openly observe the practices for which we protect. I am grateful to serve in an Air Force that supports religious practices of every Airman, no matter how few we may number. I am proud to celebrate Chanukah as a Jew, American and as an Airman.
Happy Chanukah, Team Ellsworth!