More Light

Chanukah begins at sundown on December 11.  It’s a child’s holiday, with candles, songs, and, in the affluent west these days, presents.  For adults, at least for me, it’s a bit more problematic–it’s a holiday that celebrates confusing things, the triumph of religion over reason, the cleansing of the Temple, the start of a theocracy not unlike current-day Iran’s.

Religion and politics in the Middle East in 167 BCE were just as complicated and deadly a combination as they’ve remained today.  As David Brooks reports in the New York Times, many 2nd century BCE Jews embraced Greek culture, including elevating the power of reason over blind faith.  Others were furious at the way in which science and art had taken the fundamentals out of that old time religion.  And the Macabees belonged to this second group.  When the Graeco-Syrian rulers took a step too far in defiling the Temple, the Macabees were able to rouse local opinion and begin a revolution against Syrian rule.

The history, with the restoration of the Temple, makes me proud, sad, appalled, breathstruck at the beauty and misery of it all.  Yes, the lights burned again in front of the Holy of Holies, the sacrificial pigs were cleansed from the sacred space.  But a century of enlightenment crashed to an end as religious rule was restored first with an iron, and then with an inept and corrupt fist.  And within another 200 years, the Diaspora ushered in 2000 years of suffering, culminating in the Shoah.  During those years, lighting Chanukah candles became a statement of courage.  You put them in  your window, even though that could invite the destruction of your home and the murder of your family, to show that you were not ashamed to be a Jew.chanukah3

The parallels to American and Iranian religious fundamentalism are so pointed that I won’t dwell on them.  (No, we don’t believe in evolution!  Yes, climate change is the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the American people! rousing statements by members of Congress, candidates for President, and ministers.)

Meanwhile, some people are trying to make political hay out of the Obamas’ invitation to a holiday party in honor of Chanukah.  The Obamas invited 50 fewer people than did the Bushes–they must be dissing the Jews.  They didn’t say “Happy Chanukah” on the invitation–unlike the Bushes, who put a Christmas tree on theirs.

This time of year exhausts me with its fights over who is holier than thou.  On the Christian side of the aisle, a member of the Tea Bag Party is trying to put a law on California’s books requiring every public school in the state to force all children to sing Christmas carols.  The proposed law includes an enforcement clause requiring the state to litigate against schools that don’t comply.  California is sinking under its budget deficit, but surely it can find room to put Christmas Carol Inspectors on the rolls.

The only way I can cope with the season is to turn away from the history of bloodshed, the warfare over holiness, and focus on the lights: the flame on the candles, the twinkling of the Christmas decorations.  More light.  More and more light.  And with it, as the US ramps up for year eight of its own Middle Eastern wars, as the desolation continues in Darfur,


in Congo, Zimbabwe, and in Gaza, may we please find some little flame of peace that we can blow on and turn into a true fire–not of zealotry, but of justice.  And may the One who makes peace in the High Places grant peace to us all.

Kaddish, by Rex Sexton

Kaddish, by Rex Sexton

  • Thank you, Sara, for this enlightened (and enlightening) post. I join you in hoping that the flickering light of peace can be fanned into a flame of justice for all.
    My hope is that someday, perchance, we can all just learn to get along.

    Happy Chanukah to you and yours.

  • genny from jersey

    Sara, I share your frustration. We can only hope that there is an enlightment among reasonable thinking people that will move all of us to be better stewards of this earth.

  • MO Inkslinger

    Being a product of conservative Christian upbringing, I am appalled at the hatred spewed by the Christian Right. I believe America is great because of our diversity of races, our different cultural backgrounds and our multitude of religious beliefs. We need to embrace our diversity and be thankful that so many can contribute so much. If we can solve these problems in our country, then we might be able to achieve a blueprint for resolving these issues throughout the world.

  • Shirley

    Ah yes, the holiday lights are soothing and calming to the soul. We need this as we go into a New Year filled with trepidation and anxiety on so many fronts.

  • This morning I tried to listen to Christmas music, but found myself crying. Turned on Leonard Cohen instead. Tonight I finished reading Bleeding Kansas and found myself sobbing. I’m sorry, but the new growth of the winter wheat was not enough hope for me next to the triumph of the evil of the Salvation Through the Blood, etc., church. And of course, it’s all set against the background of our President’s speech in Oslo in which he seems to have joined the forces of violence and given up hope on non-violent resolution of problems. I’m glad I went looking for your website to write to you about Bleeding Kansas and found your blog. I promise to try to find some solace in the candles and the lights, but I find I’m crying again. Thank you for your books. I do love them.

  • Penny Thornton

    The many religions of the world should perhaps be the answer to lots of the worlds problems but alas they seem often to be the cause. If only those who believe could concentrate on all the good things in their particular religion and not use/abuse scriptures to back prejudice, hatred and bigotry.

    Good wishes of hope and peace to all over this holiday season.

  • Laurie

    Happy Chanukah Sara to you and your family! Thank you so much for your post. I enjoyed your gift of enlightenment.
    Peace to all. -Laurie

  • Years ago I read that all great religions (and not just the monotheistic ones) share some version of the Golden Rule to do unto others as we would have others do unto us. I will light my own candle in hopes that we will all somehow find the strength and humility to live it.

    In the meantime, when I can’t wrap my mind around the overwhelming problems facing us, I take comfort in knowing that I can still smile at a stranger, speak kindly to an annoying student, leave extra minutes on the parking meter, and share with those less fortunate than myself. It helps.

    Happy Chanukah.

  • Thank you all for these thought-filled comments, and to everyone for your good wishes. Connie, I know what you mean about the tears, but I think of people like Vaclav Havel, who refused to give in when life seemed bleakest, and even though I have plenty of days where the bleakness starts to swallow me, I don’t feel I can give into it without betraying people like him. It’s cold comfort, but perhaps that’s what we have to rely on right now. And just the fact that you came to this space helps me feel less alone, as I hope we do for you, as well.

  • Brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  • I will never in a hundred years understand why people are so intolerant of each other. I know that’s naive but it’s true.

  • Yudaya-Jin no Baka na Yatsu zya nai

    No more wars for the Jewish overlords.


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