This time of year, we think a lot about lights. And candles.
There is something about candles and fire that universally resonates. Some of my most grounded moments are sitting around a campfire, lighting my Shabbat candles, and gazing at my Menorah. In those moments there is often that sense of clarity and vision.
I remember hearing that Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson z’l, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, taught that the power of light is that even the tiniest light can dispel a room full of darkness. Perhaps that is why it brings us that sense of calm. As Anne Frank shared, “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
I think I can speak for many when I say that we are experiencing a time of darkness; many of us feel overwhelmed by the atrocities of Oct. 7th, the war in Israel, the rise of antisemitism, and the general state of the world- we are looking for the light. We are seeking direction and trying to figure out how to make even a tiny difference during this confusing time.
At Shalom Task Force we work with survivors of intimate partner violence, and as the reports of the sexual assaults of October 7th and then of hostages were publicized, we felt a prevailing darkness. The victims’ services field has worked for years to make sure that survivors are believed- and now we were facing a deafening silence, denial, and blame. The ripple effects of this on survivors are profound. We found that survivors everywhere report that they are feeling retraumatized and more hesitant to come forward because of this global response.
So, we grappled with ways to respond meaningfully at this painful juncture. Our services continued and we offered ongoing support to survivors of intimate partner violence and their families- providing services and connecting them to resources. We increased our advocacy around gender-based violence, releasing a statement decrying the gender-based violence during war, and increasing our work with our partners in Israel.
Somehow, as we transitioned from October 7th into the season of Chanukah, I was struck by how candles and menorah can be used as a vehicle for community building, connection and conversation.
On the fourth night of Chanukah- hundreds of people around the world participated in our “Be the Light” campaign. We asked that people light a purple candle that night- purple represents intimate partner violence awareness and one in four women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime. This is a small but meaningful way for us to come together as a community and connect with each other – some online #BeTheLightSTF and some IRL (in real life)- to show support and increase awareness.
One participant posted one purple candle amongst an array of same sized but differently colored candles– and wrote that “I thought about doing all white and one purple, but it’s not usually very easy to spot a survivor.” One way of creating support is learning more about abuse and bringing awareness to your community. This was poignant. Survivors of abuse can be any of us, look like anyone else- and blend in. We must learn to destigmatise accessing help, decrease barriers of disclosure, and learn to offer support.
Some people chose to use a purple candle as Shamash- the candle that lights the other candles. Being supportive is not knowing exactly what to say or do but knowing that there are options and respecting the survivors’ choices. Support may be illuminating the way to resources and helping to connect them while valuing their right to autonomy.
This candle was a way to acknowledge that abuse exists in all communities and that we believe survivors’ stories. It is critical that we find ways to surface substantive discourse about abuse and signal strongly to survivors that when they come forward, they will be believed and that there are resources to help them. This was an opportunity to have a conversation about abuse, trauma and what it means to be a supportive community, and that it is our imperative that we come together at the hardest times and share our light.
One beautiful attribute of light is that when you share your fire, it does not diminish from your candle, but only increases the light in the world. When we learn to be supportive and show our love, comfort, and concern we will not have less; we will become more together.