The Chanukah Candle
that Inspired George Washington
Chanukah (1775) 5537.
A difficult winter. Terrible cold. We are sitting in Valley Forge and waiting.
Why? I don’t know. Perhaps for better days than these. I am the only Jew here.
Perhaps there are other Jews among us, but I haven’t seen any. We hunger for bread. We have no warm clothing or shoes to protect our feet. Most of the soldiers curse George Washington for going to war against Britain.
There are those who hope for his downfall, but I believe that his cause is just. We must expel Britain from America. She wants to put her hands in everything her eyes see. Although we are suffering here terribly,
I am loyal with all my heart to George Washington.
More than once I see him at night, passing through the camp, between the rows of sleeping soldiers.
He gazes with compassion upon the soldiers who are suffering from the cold. And sometimes he approaches one of the sleeping soldiers and covers him, as a father would cover his son.
There are times when the hunger and the freezing cold torture me to death. But I don’t curse General Washington who is fighting for the freedom of America.
At moments like this I think of my father in Poland. I think about all that he suffers at the hand of the cruel “Poritz”. (Noblemen)
I remember: I was a child then and I saw my father dancing before the Poritz. What an awful thing to see! My father was wearing the skin of a Polar bear – and danced like a bear before the Poritz and his guests.
What terrible pain! What great shame! My father dancing like a bear – and the “Poritzim” (Polish Noblemen) laughing and rejoicing at the sight. I decided then and there that I will never dance like my father before the Poritz.
Afterwards, I escaped to America.
And now I am lying in Valley Forge and shivering from cold. They say that Washington is losing and that he can’t win this war. But I don’t believe all that. I lie at night and pray for him.
The first night of Chanukah arrives.
On this night, years ago, I left my fathers house. My father gave us this Chanukah menorah and said to me, “My son, when you light the Chanukah candles, they will illuminate the way for you”.
Since then, the Menorah has been like a charm for me.
Wherever I go, I take it with me. I didn’t know what to do – to light the Chanukah candles here…. or not.
I decided to wait until they were all asleep, and then I took out my father’s Menorah. I made the brocha and lit the first candle. I gazed at the light and remembered my parents’ home.
I saw my father dancing like a bear before the Poritz and I saw my mother’s eyes filled with tears.
My heart was filled with pain and I burst out crying like a small child. And I decided then in my heart, that for the sake of my father and mother, for my brothers and sisters in Poland.
I must help George Washington make America a free country, a land of refuge for my parents and brothers who are subjected to the cruelty of the Poritz.
Suddenly I felt a gentle hand touching my head. I lifted my eyes and it was he – he himself was standing over me and he asked, “Why are you crying, soldier? Are you cold? “.
Pain and compassion were in his voice. I couldn’t bear to see him suffer. I jumped up, forgot that I was a soldier standing before a General, and said what came from my heart, like a son speaking to his father:
“General Washington,” I said, “I am crying and praying for your victory.
And I know that with the help of G-d we will win. Today they are strong, but tomorrow they will fall because justice is with us. We want to be free in this land. We want to build a home here for all those who flee from the hands of “Poritzim”, for all who suffer across the ocean.
The “Poritzim” will not rule over us! They will fall and you will rise!” General Washington pressed my hand.“Thank you, soldier,” he said. He sat next to me on the ground, in front of the Menorah.
“What is this candlestick?”, he asked.
I told him, “I brought it from my father’s house. The Jews all over the world light candles tonight, on Chanukah, the holiday of the great miracle”.
The Chanukah candles lit up Washington’s eyes, and he asked joyfully, “You are a Jew from the nation of Prophets and you say we will be victorious?!”
“Yes sir,” I answered with conviction. “We will win just like the Maccabees won, for ourselves and for all those who come here after us to build a new land and new lives.”
The General got up and his face was shining. He shook my hand and disappeared in the darkness.
My faith prevailed. Washington’s victory was complete. The land was quiet. My General became the first President of the United States and I was one of its citizens. I soon forgot the terrible days and nights in Valley Forge.
But I kept the memory of that first night of Chanukah in my heart like a precious dream. I did not relate it to anyone because I said to myself: Who will believe me? I was certain that the General forgot it completely. But that was not the case. He didn’t forget.
The first night of Chanukah (1776) 5538.
I was sitting in my apartment in New York, on Broome Street, and the Chanukah candles were burning in my window.
Suddenly, I heard a knock at my door. I opened the door and was shocked: my General, President George Washington, was standing in the doorway (there himself), in all his glory.
“Behold the wonderful candle. The candle of hope of the Jewish People,” he proclaimed joyously when he saw the Chanukah candles in my window.
He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “This candle and your beautiful words ignited a light in my heart that night. Soon you will receive a Medal of Honor from the United States of America, together with all of the brave men of Valley Forge. But tonight, please accept this token from me.”
He hung a golden medallion on my chest and shook my hand. Tears filled my eyes and I couldn;t speak. The President shook my hand again and departed.
I came to, as if from a wonderful dream, then I looked at the medallion and saw an etching of a beautiful Chanukah Menorah.
Under it was written: “A token of gratitude for the light of your candle – George Washington”.
This is a true story.
(Given to Reb Given to Rebbetzen Sternberg to type five years ago
by Rabbi Yehuda Mandelcorn zt”l. Apologies for the mild edit.
May this be a blessing and inspirtation for you, in his Memory)