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Hanukkah in the Field: Finding the Light Within

Leah Dworkin, MA | Assistant Field Director

At Open Sky, we treat any holiday as an opportunity to honor and celebrate traditions and deepen relationships within teams. In this blog, Assistant Field Director Leah Dworkin shares about how Open Sky celebrates Hanukkah and the community-wide field traditions we incorporate to honor this important holiday.

Assistant Field Director Leah Dworkin holds a menorah and smiles while celebrating holidays in the field at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy.

Q: What inspired you and the Open Sky Team to develop ways of celebrating Hanukkah in the field?

A: Judaism has always been a part of my identity. Throughout my 6 ½ years at Open Sky, there have always been other Jewish students or guides who share that culture, whether from a religious standpoint or as a part of their heritage and identity. I had been celebrating Hanukkah in my teams for several years as a senior guide. I would make a “wilder menorah” out of a log and bring candles and prayers for Jewish students.

Last year, our Field and Clinical teams worked together to begin recognizing Hanukkah on a more macro level, with education and celebration surrounding the holiday in all teams. It has been exciting to be a part of this and incorporate it into the Open Sky culture and community traditions for the holidays.

Leah displays some of the supplies provided to celebrate Hanukkah in the field: educational materials, dreidels, menorahs, and candles.

Q: How are teams educated about Hanukkah? What Jewish traditions are honored?

A: Each team receives a kit for making latkes, a traditional Jewish dish (similar to a potato pancake) eaten during Hanukkah. Additionally, guides extend an invitation to their teams and any Jewish students to honor the holiday with menorahs, candles, and dreidels—a game traditionally played throughout Hanukkah. We also provide information about the significance of Hanukkah and these traditions, the meaning of the menorah, the process of lighting the candles, and blessings to recite for those who wish to. Guides also support students in making their own “wilder menorah” out of a log.

Q: What do you hope students and staff—whether Jewish or not—gain from integrating Hanukkah traditions and education in the field?

A: In general, I see it is an opportunity to recognize that there are other cultures and traditions out there apart from one’s own. I believe that learning about other cultures and traditions doesn’t dim one’s perspective or identity but helps to illuminate it and illuminate the world. It’s like the metaphor that adding another log to the campfire doesn’t dim the fire but helps it grow brighter.

For Jewish students and staff, it’s about being seen and sharing that part of their identity: how they were brought up, the foods they eat, and the traditions in their families. Experiencing that in the field, away from home, is significant and important.

Q: Why is the holiday season such a meaningful time in wilderness? How can it benefit one’s therapeutic growth?

A: The story of Hanukkah and Judaism as a whole is a powerful and beautiful representation of the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey is the essence of what we are helping our students to learn and experience for themselves. The Hanukkah festival was born from a time when Judaism was outlawed, the temple was destroyed, and there was only enough oil to burn for one day. Yet the Jews persevered and showed up powerfully, rather than entering into victimhood. The oil ended up burning for eight days.

This is the essence of what we teach our students: it’s not my fault what happened to me, and it’s in my control how I choose to show up. For me, celebrating Hanukkah is about recognizing that the power and light is always in me.

Any holiday takes on a different and even more sacred meaning in wilderness. Without the fluff and distractions from home, we get to the heart of what traditions and holidays are meant to celebrate: relationships, history, spiritual connection, and wonderful food.

Any day in the wilderness carries challenge and difficulty with it, along with a lot of power and beauty. Holidays in the field are no different. This dichotomy of having both challenge and beauty during the holidays in the field is really amazing.

November 30th, 2021

Leah Dworkin, MA | Assistant Field Director