Pondering the power of Chanukah in a pandemic

Maimonides Jewish Day School in Southwest Portland announced the two winners of Oregon’s 4th annual Chanukah Essay Contest. They were selected by award-winning children’s authors Trudy Ludwig and Eric Kimmel, two of the contest’s judges, who infused this year’s event with their signature creativity.

Shira Wilhelm, 10, a 5th grader at Maimonides Jewish Day School, is the winner in the 3rd grade through 5th grade category, and Steven Rogosin, 12, a 6th grader at The Marylhurst School, submitted the winning essay among students in 6th grade through 8th grade.

This year’s participating students represented 18 different schools, and they responded in 150 words or less to the following question:

The Festival of Lights celebrates how the Maccabees found the strength to overcome difficult obstacles their community faced. How can you help support your community of friends and family in today’s challenging times?

For sharing their thoughts quite beautifully, Shira and Steven each will receive $200, $150 of which is a cash prize, and the additional $50 is for the students to gift to the school of their choice.

Everything is topsy-turvy this year: In prior years, the winning students also have enjoyed lunch with contest judges. Ludwig and Kimmel aren’t letting Covid-19 get them down; they are lunching with the young writers — via Zoom, of course — on Dec. 13.

The authors also are giving the winning students a signed copy of one of their books. Ludwig selected for both Shira and Steven “Gifts from the Enemy,” and Kimmel’s choice for the young writers is “Harry and the Hanukkah Goblins.”

Ludwig said this about Shira’s essay: “She did a lovely job capturing how she can help others, even though she’s not a grown-up, by turning her community concerns into caring action.”

And Kimmel had this to say about Steven’s work, “Steven’s essay reminds us to think about our actions, to seek out accurate information to make sure that we are making the right decisions. As he points out, we cannot always rely on leaders. We should never follow anyone to do our thinking for us. The Maccabees fought with swords. Today our weapons are science, knowledge, and doing what we believe is best for everyone.”

Rabbi Shneur Wilhelm, principal of Maimonides Jewish Day School that launched the annual contest four year ago that now has been replicated at other schools across the country, said, “Going ahead this year with the contest was a great way to find good in every opportunity, at any time.”

He added, “The positive and inspiring thoughts and ideas students shared are a reminder to find the blessing within the hardship, the opportunity within the challenge.”

Marc Blattner, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland that helped support the annual contest via its gifts of cash prizes, said, “The Jewish Federation is proud to support this essay contest encouraging young people to expand their horizons and create thoughtful responses to important questions. Congratulations to the essay contest winners. Thank you for your impactful and inspiring words.”

This year’s students represent the following schools: Maimonides Jewish Day School, Richmond Elementary School, Metro East Web Academy, Nigri Shluchim Online School, Portland Jewish Academy, Durham Elementary School, The Marylhurst School, Le Monde  French Immersion Public Charter School, Catlin Gabel School, Abernethy Elementary School, Odyssey Program at East Sylvan, Maplewood Elementary School, Kelly Middle School in Eugene, Sunset Primary School, Lake Grove Elementary School, Buckman Elementary School, ACCESS @ Lane Middle School and from a student who is homeschooled.


Shira Wilhelm, 10, 5th grader, Maimonides Jewish Day School

As the number of cases were rising in Oregon a friend of my family got covid 19. It was quite serious and dangerous.

I’m only a young girl in fifth grade. I am not a nurse or a doctor but I still can help.

l called my friend and checked to see if they had food and I sent him videos wishing him well.

My friends messaged me back “Thank you! You made my day!”

During quarantine another woman in our community was alone and each Wednesday I called her to share stories of the Torah.

My grandfather had a kidney transplant and needs to be careful so sometimes I help them by bringing things to their house.

I can help my community by caring for other people and letting them know that I think about them.

Chanukah celebrates light, and whenever it is dark I can help my community by lighting a candle.


Steven Rogosin, 12, 6th grader, The Marylhurst School

“This year has been hard! It is also different from other years. This year it’s more important than ever to support your community, friends and family through these trying times.

Today, we face a different problem than the Maccabees had. Instead of fighting with weapons we are forced to fight a novel virus called covid-19 with masks, social distancing, and hand washing.

The Maccabees also faced pressure from their rulers on how to live their lives in ways that threatened their survival.  Today, our leaders don’t always give good advice. We must make sure to listen to experts and science.

Today our scientists have advised us in ways to limit the spread of the virus. These are also times to support your community by giving to charity and tzedaka, being nice to neighbors and family. Don’t give up, because the Maccabees survived and we can too!”

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