People all over the world celebrate something akin to Hanukkah at this time of year. Though they aren’t recalling the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil burning for eight days, many cultures have midwinter rituals with fires and feasting, meant to dispel the blackness of the lengthening nights. It’s a natural human instinct to seek out light in the darkness.
Hanukkah is the Jewish version of that ritual, and while considered a minor holiday, it has deep resonance for our people. It combines our fight for religious freedom, a holy miracle and, at least in modern times, our taking a place at the table of American tolerance and equality.
This year, we need Hanukkah more than ever.
With America grappling with tremendous social upheaval, including a sickening spike in hate, racism and xenophobia, we need the light of the Hanukkah candles to show us the way forward.
So light a candle for Pittsburgh — 11 precious souls murdered as they prayed in a synagogue, killed simply for being Jews by a gunman who blamed them for aiding immigrants and said he feared the “invasion” of migrants in a caravan headed for our southern border.
Light a candle for Jeffersontown, Kentucky, where a man motivated by racial hate, thwarted in his efforts to cause mayhem in a historically black church, shot to death two African Americans in a nearby grocery store instead.
Light a candle for Thousand Oaks, California, where 12 patrons of a popular bar, most of them college students, were gunned down without mercy. No one knows why.
Light a candle for Cornell, Duke, and all the other college campuses defaced this year by anti-Semitic graffiti.
Light a candle for women afraid to walk to their cars at night, and another for the men who have stepped forward to support the #MeToo movement.
Light a candle for the residents of southern Israel and of Gaza, both under constant fire.
Light a candle for Butte County — the lives lost, the homes destroyed, the communities wiped off the map by wildfire. As last week’s rains brought welcome relief to those of us in the smoke-clogged Bay Area, it made life even more miserable for fire refugees huddled in tents, and firefighters trying to pick through the mud for human remains. Hundreds are still missing.
We light the Hanukkah candles together, with friends and family, to remember that we are not alone. We sing songs of praise and of victory, of hope in the face of disaster. The candles remind us not to give in to despair, but to keep moving forward, even when it seems we cannot. We can always light another. We must.
Eight nights, eight candles, until the hanukkiah is ablaze with light.