Updated: Feb 23
This week marks the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah in which we commemorate the rededication of the ancient temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean Revolt. During this wintertime festival of lights, we celebrate each night by lighting the menorah and consuming special foods fried in oil. It is a holiday that celebrates not only freedom from oppression, but also freedom of expression.
The war that the Jews fought against the Syrian Greeks was more than just a political war; it was a war against a foreign culture that sought to overtake and erase the essence of Jewish culture. With this in mind, the Greeks brought their idols into the ancient temple and defiled every jar of oil to compromise its purity for Jewish worship.
Oil is the primary symbol of Hanukkah, as seen in the lighting of the menorah and the traditional fried foods we eat during this time. The major characteristic of oil is that it separates and rises to the top of anything it is mixed with. Oil always stays separate; it retains its essence.
So too, there are times in our lives when we must separate ourselves so that we don’t lose our own essence. Back in 2014, following my service in the Israeli military, I took a private security job in Transylvania. It was a somewhat abrupt decision during a difficult time in my security career and personal life. I was standing on the brink of decisions that would either take my career to the next level or give me a good enough reason to walk away from it completely.
That's just me, goofing off around the gothic architecture - Sibiu, Carpathian Mountains, Transylvania (November 2014)
By taking this job in Transylvania, I separated from my familiar milieu, including my own colleagues. I needed this separation to figure out who I was and what I really wanted, away from the noise of everything else. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I arrived in Tranyslvania in the winter, just in time to light the Hannukah candles in the windowsill of my new apartment in downtown Bucharest.
In Bucharest, I was no longer a Jew in America or an American in Israel. I lived in a culture that was completely different from anywhere I had lived before, a stranger walking beneath the shadows of gothic cathedrals as flocks of pigeons floundered on the face of the Dâmbovița River before taking to the sky.
Winter days are mostly dark in Eastern Europe, but there was a little light in me that grew brighter as I thought about the past and the things I really wanted for myself—all while separated from my familiar surroundings, like the oil that rises above the water. It took a few months of living abroad, but eventually I returned to Israel and made the decision to leave a career that was no longer a good fit for me.
Each one of us has a spark inside that is bright and dynamic. We are each full of light and possibility. A flame can exist for only a moment before disappearing, or it can be nurtured to grow. My hope for all of us is that we each find a way to enhance the flame of our true essence, inviting creativity and accomplishment into our lives.
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About Jessica Lauren Walton: Jessica is a communications strategist, video producer, and writer in the U.S. defense industry. She has written articles on a range of security and mental health topics and conducted interviews with military leadership, psychologists, journalists, CIA officers, filmmakers, and more. Jessica recently completed her memoir about her experience as an American woman struggling with mental illness while trying to get into Israeli intelligence.