Thinking about Chanukah and light

Thinking about Chanukah and light

It’s good that Chanukah is here. We can use any little bits of light, any flickers that bat away any of the darkness.

Because, boy, it’s been dark here.

But along with the stories of antisemitism we’ve hearing in this bleak new world in which we seem to find ourselves — hatred at Rutgers, hatred at school boards, reports of brutal rapes of Jewish women by Hamas terrorists (not militants) ignored because intersectionality means that all Jews are the oppressors — Me Too Unless You’re a Jew — and by definition cannot be victims — there are little glints of light.

There is something in the human spirit, and in the Jewish DNA, that does not allow for constant mourning. If you try that, madness follows. We have learned, over the course of literal millennia, the delicate art of balancing grief and joy, the desire to die of sadness and the desire to live, not just drably but with pleasure.

I remember the Holocaust survivor I interviewed years ago. She’d first been a spy, a blond, effervescent young woman who passed as a Pole, worked as a secretary, and learned information that she passed on to Jewish partisans. When she feared that she was going to be outed, she went to the forest, where she lived as a partisan until the war ended.

When she came to this country, she flourished; her brains, grit, and desire to live were unmistakable and unconquerable. But out of all the stories she told, the one that stuck most with me was how this woman, who was old by the time I met her, who had seen evil up close many times over, said that she loved going to parties, that she loved to dance, and that she always was the last person on the dance floor when the band finally began to pack up.

Life keeps pushing through.

And so does the feeling of community. I’ve talked so far to two people who have not belonged to synagogues for decades — who are at most agnostic but more likely full-on atheists, with little patience for the ritual that many Jews, no matter what their beliefs, find beautiful and meaningful — but now are thinking seriously about joining synagogues. Not for protection, not for religion, but for community.

The balance of having “Kidnapped” posters in shuls, visible during baby namings and b’nai mitzvah celebrations and weddings as well as during the times when people say kaddish, is hard but important to attain and maintain. Death is an inevitable part of life, but terror should not be.

We will overcome it with the light of the candles that we light at the darkest part of the year. In two weeks, the days will start getting longer again, slowly at first, then more and more quickly. Light will come back; we bring it back ourselves on Chanukah.

We wish our readers — we wish the whole world — a Chanukah where the light goes from flicker to inspiration. —JP

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