Shabbat Hanukkah: O Ir Kleyne Lichtelech
(A Torah study led by Rabbi J.B. Sacks on December 16, 2023)
Hanukkah has inspired numerous poems over the centuries. I wanted us to look at one that seems especially resonant this year. Later, we will sing this in Yiddish, but due to time, let’s read it and unpack it in English. Please look at your handout, as I read.
O, IR KLEYNE LICHTELECH
(L: Morris Rosenfeld, 1862-1923)
Oh, you little candles–
you tell histories,
You tell of bloody deeds.
Of resourcefulness and courage,
miracles of long ago.
When I see you sparkling
a vision comes flickering.
Telling a dream of old:
Jew, you fought once,
Jew, you prevailed once,
G!d, it’s hard to believe.
Oh, you little candles
Your moments of history
awaken my torment;
It moves me deep in my heart
and, tearfully, it wonders:
What will happen now?
- What images or words resonate for you this morning?
- What themes does this poem consider?
- Morris Rosenfeld, was the doyen of a group of writers known as the “Sweatshop Poets.” Writing in Yiddish, they offered a window into the working conditions and political struggles of immigrants to America at the turn of the twentieth century. Rosenfeld himself offered vivid portraits of spiritually and physically broken workers and families. How do you understand the poem as a response to the abject conditions of workers or the plight of immigrants living in the United States?
- Do you spend time just watching the lit Hanukkah candles? What stories do the Hanukkah flames bring up for you?
- What do you feel is the meaning of the final question?
- How does this poem, for you, relate to our celebrating Hanukkah while Israel is at war following the October 7 Hamas terror attacks on Israel?
Let’s sing this moving poem and song.
O ir kley-ne likh-telech, ir der-tzelt ge-shich-telech
Mayselech on tzol.
Ir der-tzeylt fun blutikayt, beryeshaft un mutikayt
Vundere fun amol.
Ven ich zey aich shminklendik; kumt a kholem finklendik
Ret on alter troym.
Yid, du host gekrikt a mol; Yid, du host gezicht a mol
Hot dos gloybt zich koym.
S’iz bay dir a tolk geven; bist a mol a folk geven
Host a mol regirt
Host a mol a land gehat; host a mol a hant gehat
Ach, vi tif dos rirt.
O, ir kleyne lichtelech, ayere geshichtelech
Vekn oyf mayn payn.
Tif in hartz bavekt es zich; un mit trern frekt es zich
Vos vet itster zayn?
Happy Hanukkah and Shabbat shalom!