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Rachel Sharansky Danziger
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Between the world and us, we place a light

Hanukkah is a time of turning outward, a time to show the world the humanity and courage of our people
Image by chavahjacobs from Pixabay

When the first “but the context!” UN statement hit the news after October 7th, there wasn’t any part of me that wished to answer it. “It’s not cowardice,” I told myself as I turned away from the big wide world out there, from all the arguments that needed answering and all the lies that needed protesting and all the exhausting blindness that needed alleviating, and which I desperately didn’t want to alleviate myself. “I’m simply focusing on the conversations that matter right now, the ones where I can make a difference.”

I immersed myself in internal Jewish conversations instead, in reaching out to my own people. “I’m not running away from confrontations,” I assuaged myself from time to time. “I’m devoting myself to the people who need me, to the people who love me, to the people who care.”

And it felt right, this turning inward. It felt healing. I found strength and comfort in my people and offered it in turn. I learned to walk again in a world that tilts and tilts beneath us. I found my sense of purpose and, at times, some joy.

But comfort can become complacency, and safe harbors can become a form of self-imposed exile. Our truths, our memories, our light, were never meant to be kept hidden in our private spaces. “You shall be a blessing,” God told our forefather Abraham. “All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” The world was always meant to be our project’s scope.

Hanukkah is here now, to bring home this reminder. Like thunder in the distance, it spells a season’s end. I had my time of inwardness and now it’s time to move on past it. It’s time to take the truths and hopes and loves we nurtured here amongst us, and place them where they can shed light out to the world.

On Hanukkah, we place the light of memory out in the doorways, where it spills into the outside world with all its noise. We place it in the windows, where it can join the stars in lighting up the vast outdoors. We place it where our own internal rhythms clash with the concerns and purposes of strangers, the entryways where ‘in’ and ‘out’ collide.

These entryways have been a place of pain for us for months now. A place where strangers scoff at us, and judge, and disregard our pain. Where they intrude upon our shock and grief with words like ‘proportionality’ and ‘context’ and ‘when it leads to conduct‘. Where they turn us into something monstrous within their gaze.

It’s hard to place our lights in such a place of pain and disappointment. It’s hard to take our precious memories, our truths, and place them where the world can see and mock and jeer. But we have so much light within us, so much that we can offer. God created light and gave it to the world, despite the evil-doers and the haters that exist within it. As I prepare my candles for tonight, I think about the path that He initiated. I think: it’s time to take our lights and venture out there, into the darkened, broken, scary world.

To our haters, I say: you’re not my audience. I don’t intend to waste my time on you. I wouldn’t let your gaze make me ashamed of my existence, and I wouldn’t shroud myself in silence to avoid you. The world is vast and full of potential and suffering. I will not abandon it to your lies, to your mistakes, your creeds.

I will shine our light and tell our stories. I will place the humanity and courage of our people on pedestals, not to enshrine them, but so the world will see. Let the world learn about educators like Yossi Hershkovitz, who was the sort of man to fight for the soul of every single failing and rebelling student, who encouraged children to look for spots of goodness in the dark. Let us the world marvel at the bravery of Lt. Eden Nimri, an ambitious girl and a competitive swimmer, who at 22 saved her comrades at the cost of her own life. Let the world bow its head and mourn for Moshe Ohayon, who dedicated his life to weaving connections between different Israelis, set out to fight invading terrorists on October 7th, and died with his son, Eliad.

Let the world hear about the courage of our living. About the wives and mothers, helping each other while their husbands serve. About the volunteers picking onions in the field despite the heat and blisters. About the children, learning how to cope and even thrive.

And let it hear about the farmers sowing wheat in blood-soaked ground in Be’eri. Behold, world,: this is what we do when our enemies try to destroy us. Time and time, we refuse to cower, to curl into a mournful ball. We choose to sow instead, to lay roots in the ground, to claim stakes in the future. We choose to bet that when our seeds will grow and ripen, we will reap with joy.

When my father, Natan Sharansky, was in the Soviet Gulag, his stories about Hanukkah gave other prisoners courage. They weren’t Jewish, but like the Maccabees, they had an evil empire breathing down their neck. The light of our own ancient miracle shone on their faces, lit up their eyes, and lent them strength.

The world can be a scary place, filled with malevolence. Many people suffer in its many parts. Our stories can inspire them and bring them comfort. I had my time of inwardness and rest away from haters. But for the people who could use our light, I’ll dare to face them. The time has come for me to venture out.

A light will spill tonight from our windows, and the light of resilience and hope will spill from Zion forth. May it wash away the shadows and the darkness. May it be a blessing for the world.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and educator who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, history, and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and other online venues, and explores storytelling in the Hebrew bible as a teacher in Maayan, Torah in Motion, and Matan.
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