When Darkness Taints the Festival of Lights

Originally Posted in Rabbi’s Words on January 5, 2020.

Hannukkiah at Ein Hod

Thursday I pulled into the CKA driveway for the first time since returning from our splendid and inspiring congregational trip to Israel. I came bearing joy, having witnessed the continuing growth and prosperity of our fellow Jews in our homeland, Eretz Yisrael, but also facing the darkness of what has happened here, in our home, while we were gone. Two events cast a shadow over the light of the holiday: a series of violence occurring and reoccurring throughout Hannukah directed at Jewish traditional communities of New York, culminating in the brutal machete attack in Monsey, as well as the horrific shootout in a house of worship here in Texas. Worrisome.

Yet, as I pulled in, I looked at our new lawn menorah and dreidel by the entrance (thanks Steve!). They were, as I expected, unmolested…except for the two hyperactive squirrels running up and down the hannukiyah. Its new counterpart displayed on Morriss Rd (thanks Michael!) was likewise intact, glittering in full glory.

I made my first task to bring them into the building, now the holiday was over. As I hauled in these sizable displays, I was comforted by the mundanity of these tasks. Though we hear and see frightening things from afar, our reality up close, as Americans and as Jews, is still remarkably prosaic and secure. For the vast majority of us, blessed light burns undiminished, every day.

Yes, there is a disturbing and inexplicable (even the experts seemed baffled) uptick in violence directed at Jews in places around the country. And yes, we are painfully aware that places we once thought to be truly safe can become subject to sudden violence, but the fact remains that we are continuously blessed. To be an American Jew at the second decade of the 21st Century is still to have one foot already firmly planted in the messianic era. We are more likely to die of obesity than of famine. Pestilence is no longer regularly taking the lives of our loved ones prematurely. And even violence, thankfully, is mostly seen only from afar.

These events frighten us, but they also remind us of the two-fold nature of Hanuukah and what it teaches. The first is about resistance – fighting back against an unjust and cruel present. This we are doing at CKA, through enhanced security, preparation, and vigilance. But the other, the second dimension, is about creating what we want for the future. Promoting light to roll back the dark, extending constructiveness, love, and compassion when a brutal few are fixated on destruction, hate, and cruelty. Let’s rejoice in the overwhelming ordinariness and the everyday security of our lives, but let us also carry forward God’s light; in fact, let us be the light, shining with the confidence, faith, and hope that our tradition represents.

Happy new year, my fellow Jews!

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