GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Balls of lights hanging from trees are synonymous with Christmastime in Greensboro. This year someone at Beth David Synagogue had an idea.
“One of our congregants has a connection to the Sunset Hills neighborhood and wanted us to reach out to them to see if we could learn how to make those beautiful balls of light, but to do it in our way,” Beth David Rabbi Joshua ben-Gideon said. “To do it, not to do it about Christmas because that’s not our holiday, but to do it about Hanukkah.”
This was different for them because most Jews do not typically hang lights from their homes. Ben-Gideon talked to us about growing up Jewish in a Christian society.
“I remember that the only way I could participate as a Jewish person in the broader sense was to kind of go along with basically the general Christian perspective on whatever the holiday was,” he said.
Beth David congregant Sylvia Berkelhammer reached out to her long-time friend Jonathan Smith and his wife. Their family started the holiday ball tradition in the city.
“We leaped at the chance,” Smith said.
“The fact that we could do it with a Jewish touch was just a beautiful idea for me,” Berkelhammer added.
The Smiths came to Beth David’s annual Chanukah party and gift show. And during that party, they taught families how to make the balls of light.
“Cooperation and sharing and spreading good,” Berkelhammer said of the project. “The fact that the Smiths were so kind and wonderful to help us and we said we’re going to use blue and white, they said no problem whatsoever. Here’s your shopping list. We’ll set it up and come do it.”
“I think one of the great things that came out of this, one of the great conversations, was more about the commonality which was the importance of community to both our endeavors,” Ben-Gideon explained.
“A festival of lights joined another festival of lights and multiplied again,” Smith said. “There’s no secret that the world is very short on hope. Hope is a scarce commodity and it seems like it grows more scarce with every week that goes by. But there is hope in light.”
They lit the balls Sunday night after the Havdalah service marking the start of Hanukkah. The balls represent people from different backgrounds joining together in something so uniquely Greensboro and forging a bond they hope will grow as they continue to learn from one another even after the lights go out.
“One of the things I love about being a part of this community here in Greensboro is that it is our communal connections that help us solve problems and that we look to help each other make a better Greensboro, a better Guilford County,” Ben-Gideon said.
“The lights of Hanukkah and lighted Christmas balls bring hope to a broken and hurt community,” added Smith. “We’re related now. That’s amazing. I would’ve never dreamed this up on my own. Not in a million years.”
And as one faith holiday nears the end and another approaches, these new friends hope their light reminds us all that we are a lot more alike than we are different.
The lights outside the synagogue will go out Sunday night, which is the last night of Hanukkah.