Dr. Mitchell Ross: The lighting of the menorah is 'renewing against the darkness'

Dec. 22—AUBURN — For Dr. Mitchell Ross, a neural hospitalist at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and a member of Temple Shalom in Auburn, the story of Hanukkah is a reminder of how faith can bring us through even the darkest of times.

The lighting of the menorah is not about "affirming my faith in some traditional God," and expecting something in return, the 66-year-old Lewiston-Auburn resident said.

"It's more that I, you know, I acknowledge that I have a soul . . . (and) it's some spark that I'm sort of igniting when I light those candles and I'm renewing against the darkness of the winter solstice and against the evil and against the indifference and against the violence and everything," he said.

His faith — in light through darkness and in science — also helps him keep a "positive perspective" for his patients and other health care workers in his work as a neurologist.

"And hopefully, that same light is present in other individuals, in our society, in our communities around the world. And that's my vocation as a Jew, to light those sparks when I can," he said.

"It's just a holiness that's in humanity that needs to be encouraged and refreshed," he said.

A Boston-area native, Ross said his identity as a Jewish person has grown and evolved over the years. As a young kid, for example, growing up in a neighborhood without a large Jewish presence, he "longed" to have a Christmas tree with the tinsel and flashing lights, like the ones that he would spot through neighbors' windows.

In middle school, he said that although he had a "strong Jewish identity," he often felt like it was something he had to "fight back."

"I was always kind of scared maybe that all the Nazis were going to come back or that there really was something wrong with the Jews," he said.

But as he got older, he realized the pressure he felt to assimilate mirrors the story of the Jewish people throughout history, who have often faced a violent suppression of their existence — like the story of Hanukkah, the Maccabean revolt and their faith that the oil to light the candles would last eight nights.

"So as a Jew on, you know, this big river that goes from the mountains to the sea, on which there are probably very few other Jews, it's really hard to stay Jewish," Ross said. It would be so much easier to not observe kosher laws or not maintain ties to the Jewish community, for example.

"But I sort of feel like it's almost like it's another vocation. (To) be born a Jew is to be born to something holy. And so I feel like that's where the faith comes from. It's just the identity with that core flame inside myself that I am different."

"It's cool to be Jewish," Ross said.