There has been so much darkness lately in Israel. The news seems to be mostly bad news. One reads it—or hears it on the radio or sees it on television—and gets depressed. In fact, I know more and more people who have stopped listening to the news because it is all too often so disturbing. There appears to be no end to the violence and the fear that is spread by those who think that they benefit from this, on both sides of the conflict.
As a way of responding appropriately and sensitively to the bleak mood in Israel, some special people and some unique organizations decided to shed some light on the situation, to keep a flicker of hope alive in what seems all too often to be sometimes a hopeless situation, especially now, and especially during Hanukkah, the festival of lights.
Last Thursday night, December 10th on the fifth night of Hanukkah, The Tag Meir Forum–which combats racism and hate crimes in Israel — and Kehillat Tzion (The Zion Community Synagogue)—which is a new (two years old) innovative Masorti synagogue– brought out hundreds of people, including myself, to a spiritual interreligious celebration at the First Station in the heart of West Jerusalem under the slogan Byadeinu Or—”In our hands is the light”, to celebrate Hanukkah in an innovative and inspiring way.
It just so happens that I am involved in both organizations. For the past four years, I have been a member of the Steering Committee of the Tag Meir Forum, through which I have participated in too many solidarity visits to churches and mosques which have been vandalized, to homes of women and peaceniks who too have been vandalized, and even to Palestinian families whose children have been burned or murdered. And, as of this year, I am a new member of Kehillat Zion, led by the quietly charismatic Rabbi Tamar Elad Applebaum, which is an inclusive Masorti (Conservative) synagogue in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem, which combines Ashkenazi and Sephardi melodies and prayers along with enlightening divrei Torah (“Words of Torah” or sermons) with Jewish interreligious learning and action in new and unique ways, including bringing their method and message to the public square in Jerusalem.
At the ceremony, which was co-led by Rabbi Tamar and her friend and colleague Sheikha Iptisam, from the Israeli Arab village of Faradis, near Zichron Yaacov, just south of Haifa– who directs a non-profit organization called “Sarah and Hagar”, and is an outspoken person in favor of interreligious dialogue and cooperation in Israel and internationally—five pairs of people spoke briefly on the ways in which their work for peace and coexistence bring light and hope to the world. The first pair was comprised of two teachers, one from the Hartman High School in Jerusalem, who is doing amazing projects with Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem, even during these last two fearful months, and a Palestinian educator from East Jerusalem, who wrote a special poem for this occasion.
The second pair consisted of two girls—one Palestinian and one Jewish—who participate in a wonderful informal educational program called Kids for Peace. They were introduced by their Vice President Yakir Englander, who has been devoting his life to this program for the past few years, who told us that while the program started several years ago with only kids from the 6th grade, they now go all the way through high school and are starting new action programs for Palestinian and Jewish young adults in Jerusalem, ages 18-25.
In addition to these brief inspirational reflections by each of five pairs of people, the event was accompanied by beautiful music of the Kehillat Tzion musical ensemble. The music too helped to uplift the spirits of the standing-room only audience, who very much needed an evening like this one.
It is a telling fact that the Tag Meir (“Light Tag”) Forum was founded four years ago on Hanukkah. In combating racism and hate crimes, and offering educational programs as well as lobbying in the Knesset for more and better law enforcement, we feel that we are shedding important light on the situation every day in Israeli society by bringing voices of sanity and moderation into the public square, in the spirit of this festival of lights.
As we light the Hanukkah candles tonight –on the last night of the eight day festival—let us be mindful of how each one of us, in our own way, and through our organizations and communities, can offer light and hope at this season of the year and throughout the year.