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‘Let there be light’

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‘Let there be light’ photo

I'm an early riser and always have been.

Even as a teen, and now in my not-so-teen years, when people my age relish sleeping through breakfast, my circadian rhythms are less like my peers and more like my 89-year-old grandpa, who grabs his morning coffee and paper at dawn every day.

A visitor of mine from out of town, in his 40s, recently told me that whenever possible, he sleeps in 12-hour stretches into the afternoon, an admission he made to me when we met up for pancakes at 1p.m.—his choice of time, not mine. At first, I was envious of 12-Hour Sleep Guy. My body clock just doesn't work like that but, then again, I don't think I'd want it to.

After all, I love the morning because I'm a big fan of the sun. Whenever I can, I'll jog along the lake early in the morning and take in the sunrise. I'll watch the sun dawn over the shimmering water. Each time, I'm struck by the light and beauty of the sky, a palette of oranges, yellows, and reds dancing together, each sunrise breathtaking and different than the one that came before it. It never gets old, something that I can depend on—literally like clockwork. The chores and work for the upcoming day are far from my mind as I'm enveloped by the peaceful majesty of the scene.

It's comforting to know, that in a world with so much uncertainty, we can depend on the sun rising every day. Can you imagine how relieved early cavemen, who were still learning how the world operated, must have felt every time the sun rose another day?

When I watch the sun rise, my belief in God grows stronger. There's a prayer we say thanking God for creating the sun, called the Birkat Hachama, the "Blessing of the Sun," and I think about that blessing in these quiet moments at dawn. 

Light is a constant theme in my life. My bat mitzvah Torah portion, chanted 21 years ago, was Bereshit, the story of creation. Remember the one where God said, "Let there be light," creating the moon, the sun, and the stars? Even my name Cindy means "light" in Greek. Actually, the title of this very column, "Chai Lights" is a play on my Hebrew name—Chaya (life)—merged with my English name.

There's nothing more beautiful to me than the concept of light—both in nature and on a philosophical level, as illumination, a combination of wisdom, optimism, and hope.

It's ironic—all this talk about light—as the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, approaches. But it is now, in the season of Chanukah, that the Jewish people celebrate the light. We'll soon light candles for eight whole nights to celebrate that great miracle that happened there.

No matter what season, I see light all around. I see light in the kindness of a stranger buying a homeless man a cup of hot chocolate on a cold Chicago day. I see light when my baby nephew sings and dances to Carly Rae Jepsen on the car radio. I see light when I watch an elderly couple hold hands walking down the street.

And I see light in the traditions of our people. I even see light in the darkest days throughout history for the Jewish people. It's then that we've had to keep our lights burning brightest, through all of our peril, persecution, and turmoil, such as in Israel right now. But we as a people recognize that light, in the end, vanquishes the dark. 

My mother, who is a playwright, wrote a play staged in Minneapolis back in the 1980s and 1990s, adapted from Shalom Aleichem, called The Adventures of Mottel, about a little Jewish boy who emigrates with his family from Russia to the States at the turn of the 20th century.

Mottel and his family carry candles on stage to commemorate the end of Yom Kippur. After all he and his family had endured in Russia and on their long journey to America, the family gets through all the adversity by maintaining their sense of humor, hope, and light. And then, Mottel closes the play with the following words of wisdom: "If you carry your own lantern," Mottel tells the audience, "you can make your way through the dark."

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