As I write these swords in early November, an unusual bone-chilling, crop-freezing cold front is bearing down on New England. Combined with our recent return to Standard Time, there is no denying that we are beginning our descent into winter in earnest. And that means, of course, our annual encounter with Chanukah.
These are, in many ways and for many reasons, dark times for our nation and for our world. We are experiencing ever-more-frequent paroxsysms of gun-violence, increasing incidents of anti-Semitism, racially-motivated hate-crimes and record-breaking numbers of murders of transgender women-of-color. Nuclear saber-rattling has awakened fears of an atomic Armageddon we thought we had long ago laid to rest. Headline-grabbing reports of sexual assaults perpetrated by rich, famous and powerful men repel us; the relentless and immoral pursuit of non-criminal immigrants offends our sense of justice; unceasing attacks on a free press cause deep concern for the future our democracy.
So, how does my litany of anxieties relate to Chanukah?
When we gather for each of eight nights around the chanukiah (the Chanukah menorah), I think we would do well to recall that the word chanukah means “dedication”; it commemorates the act of re-dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem when the Maccabees reclaimed it from the Greco-Syrian troops who had occupied and defiled it.
Kindling light in the dark of winter is the perfect metaphor for the acts to which we must commit, or re-commit, ourselves if we hope to restore our nation and our democracy to something we will once again recognize. Jane Eisner, the Editor-in-Chief of the Forward, wrote a powerful and thought-provoking essay that I commend to you: How Do We Be Jewish After a Year of Trump’s America?
“America’s most sacred institutions are at risk, and though we must never demean or disenfranchise those with whom we disagree, it is urgent that the bedrock constitutional foundations that have protected Jews and so many others for centuries be defended. Productively critiqued, yes. But fearlessly defended. [...] America turned upside down last November, and so did the American Jewish community. Our complacency about our protected role in this country, and about the civic institutions and democratic norms we have come to depend on, has been shaken to its core.”
Let the light of the Chanukiah that waxes strong over the course of eight nights, serve as a symbolic goad to rededicate ourselves to the work of addressing the grave challenges that faces us. Seek out allies in this struggle; if you have the means, give financial support to organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism or the Southern Poverty Law Center that work tirelessly in defense of civil rights and personal liberty; express yourselves forcefully and regularly to your elected officials about issues that concern you.
We cannot afford the luxury of thinking that others will fight this battle; it is ours to win or to lose, but it is, most decidedly, ours.