In the darkness of Puerto Rico, a lesson for Chanukah

Since ancient times, mankind has celebrated the winter solstice: providing warmth and joy to the community and building strength to get through the long, dark, winter nights.

This is the meaning of Jag Haurim, Chanukah, the festival of lights. This is when we remember the Maccabees: heroes that fought for freedom, human dignity and the right of minorities for self-determination.

When Chanukah comes, each generation of Jews must ask itself: How do we lead by example? What is the cause that will transform concrete social realities?

I found answers to these questions in our latest mission to Puerto Rico.  On September 6, Irma, a category-five-hurricane, ravaged the island; and another one, Hurricane Maria, on the 20th. All power was lost. Transportation networks, destroyed.  As part of our CADENA mission, we delivered 2998 food packages, 600 gas stoves, 1,000 water filters, batteries, diapers – and 1,000 solar-powered lamps.

This means that we provided light. Real, physical light, to those living in the dark.

We had no swords and shields. We were not fighting the Greeks. We had no Yehuda to lead us against our enemies.  But, when we coordinated an international mission with volunteers from Miami, Chile, and Mexico; when we saw the boat, with 70 tons of humanitarian aid, arrive to the island; when, despite the surrounding darkness, we found our way through the night and helped people in need, we felt like modern Maccabees—fighting for a just cause.

By tackling this together, through grit and determination, fighting inequality and providing better conditions for those in need, where we not celebrating Chanukah?  This is how we deepen our commitment to our tradition. Not only through rituals but through direct, social, action.

It is this light that guides us. This action of brotherhood towards the stranger has become, for us in CADENA, the most valuable part of our work.

Two months after the Hurricane, Puerto Rico is still suffering from power outages.  As Jews, we know how valuable it is for someone to reach out, in times of darkness. Responding to our action of Tikkun Olam and helping repair what was lost.

Chag Sameaj,


About the Author
Benjamin is the Secretary-General of CADENA: a global Jewish humanitarian relief agency based in Mexico City.
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