It’s not accidental that Chanukah falls during the darkest time of the year.
It is the Festival of Light, meant — at least some of the time — to bring sparks of joy, hope that soon dusk will come later and dawn earlier, and crocuses and forsythia eventually will bring color to the black and white and gray.
But of course Chanukah is far more complicated than that. Throughout its history it has played out the tension between the various ways that Jews get along in this world, where we almost always have been a minority, gaining power either through our wits (to be reductive, the Maccabee approach) or by the goodness of God and the purity of our faith (the little-cruse-of-oil way).
But the fact that it falls deep in the darkness of winter, when the cold is still new enough to be shocking and the shadows are deepest, is no accident.
Right now, the world around us feels as if it’s in deepest winter. The community is in despair and disarray. Some are rejoicing at the break with what they see as stifling convention, while others — that would be me and my friends — are worry that the death of truth, logic, abstract thought, and civility will be the death of us. To be clear, of all of us.
There are discouraging signs all around us. Look at Whitefish, Montana, home to the parents of alt-right leader Richard Spencer. He’s the man who led an alt-right rally in Washington D.C. in November that featured his followers stretching out their arms in a Nazi salute. As the New York Times put it on November 20, “Mr. Spencer called out: ‘Hail Trump! Hail our people!’ and then, ‘Hail victory!’ — the English translation of the Nazi exhortation ‘Sieg Heil!’ The room shouted back.”
There is a group in Whitefish called Love Lives Here. It’s a local affiliate of the Montana Human Rights Network, and Mr. Spencer’s followers seem determined to prove its name wrong. Members of the group and the local Jewish community — which is small but it’s there — have been trolled online, and have been sent death threats. The local police take it seriously; they’ve stepped up patrols. Meanwhile, local Jewish leaders’ pictures have appeared online with big yellow stars with the word Jude in them. (I could link to it, but I won’t. It’s sick.) The photograph of a son of one of the Jewish leaders — a child! — has been posted as well, with the star and the word fag. (Creative they’re not.)
On the other hand, the president-elect’s pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman — whom our columnist Rabbi Shmuley Boteach strongly defends in many venues, including the Jewish Standard — is not temperate in his language. Diplomats usually are guarded in their words — their tool tends to be a rapier, not a bludgeon — but Mr. Friedman not only called members of J Street “worse than Kapos,” he also called the ADL leadership “morons” and added that he did not think the organization, which generally is seen as being centrist, as likely to be welcomed in the Trump White House.
We can’t turn against each other like that. It’s not good for any of us, on any side. We don’t have to agree with each other, but civility is a basic need.
We as a community, as Jews, and as Americans, have to be very careful. The world is going crazy, whirling around us; it’s starting to feel like we’re in Dorothy’s tornado, sitting in her house, seeing bits of detritus swirl by the windows in the gray fog. We have to hope that once we land, we’ll be on firm ground, up once again will be up, and down will be down. It won’t be Oz — and that’ll be okay, who really wants to live in Oz? — but it will be our own sane country, back again.
So, it’s Chanukah. The Festival of Lights. A season for hope in the cold, for light in the darkness, for love amidst hate. Let us hang on to the lessons, and continue to love, to look for light, and to continue to hope.
Spring will be here soon.