Eighth Night of Hanukkah

by Rabbi Jonathan D. Klein
Executive Director
Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice: Building a Just and Sacred Society (CLUE)

We enter the darkest time of the year. Jewish, Christian, and earth based religions, have oriented very rich traditions around this season of Darkness. Christmas falls just days after the winter solstice. Hanukkah falls squarely during the new moon of the shortest days of the year. There has been a spiritualization of this, and a huge question mark as to what will come next.

For Jews, out of this darkness comes literal glimmers of light. Four days before the new moon, we Light One Candle. With each succeeding day closer to the winter’s darkest nights, we add one more candle, increasing the light, as if to say, 'We will not allow ourselves to go to the darkest places. We will resist that darkness, we will force light to exist whenever we fear growing darkness, before it is too late, because we cannot imagine a world that is as bleak and as confused and as lost as the world seems to be going.’ In no year during my professional career as a rabbi has this idea felt more poignant.  

This is a time of extreme Darkness, of uncertainty for so many people. Among those who are deeply fearful of what the future holds are millions of immigrants and AMEMSA people—Arabs, Middle Easterners, Muslims, and South Asians.  

This year, we must acknowledge not only the need to light candles in the darkness of the darkest nights, but we must also remember the struggle of The Maccabees – a struggle against immense forces who were working against religious freedom and against tolerance of minorities. The darkness of Jerusalem during the Hasmonean dynasty was horrible, including the desecration of Jerusalem's Temple, the extreme limits on religious expression, and bloodshed and war against many, many peoples in the name of Hellenism. Outside Jerusalem, in the hills, The Maccabees, their families and supporters, plotted the resistance to the unholy and ugly machinations of a conquering force that would exclude them from society. Theirs was a military frame, but the parallels to today's era of trumpism is obvious. Our entire way of life is challenged by this ugly growth of white supremacy and exclusionary measures and perhaps most fearful, a willingness to deport millions of immigrants and to incarcerate thousands of AMEMSA people, reminiscent to the days of World War II, when this nation rounded up thousands of Japanese people and put them in internment camps.  
When we light candles during Hanukkah this year, we are simply acknowledging the efforts of those Maccabees to resist the forces working against religious freedom and against their deepest held values. The candles themselves are reminders of a much bigger battle that was waged for freedom. If those candles are to have any meaning in the 21st century, then we must ask ourselves, what are the battles that we must wage to protect those most vulnerable in our society? How do we make Hanukkah meaningful in our context? How do we remove the darkness of the night and replace it with more light, ever-increasing light, for 8 days, until we know that once again it will no longer be Darkness forever and it is possible for the world to renew itself as well as our cherished values? 
In Los Angeles we are doing just that. We have held large gatherings of religious leaders, from many different denominations, to construct a vision of justice that will allow us to get through this dark time. Already, the Episcopal church has declared its diocese here a sanctuary diocese. Already, the Lutheran Church has created a task force for protection and sanctuary of immigrants. And already, Bishop Hagiya from the United Methodist Church has demanded that congregations within his conference open up their doors to the plight of immigrants all over. Our dear friend, Reverend Alexia Salvatierra, a major figure in the journey of CLUE, my organization, has been leading workshops and creating a vision called Matthew 25 , building a voice among Evangelicals to protect the most vulnerable. Jewish leaders here have discussed the importance of creating a wall of protection for any Muslim leaders who might be asked or forced to register with the government, recognizing how ineffective such efforts were in the Bush era and how damaging it was to communities, with absolutely no value proven to come from such hostile and ugly measures taken by the government. In many communities in Southern California, CLUE has held press conferences to demand action by local government  to protect  those targeted by hateful rhetoric. And perhaps the most important light at this stage of the game has been active efforts to help pass legislation and policy locally that will ensure that local law enforcement and School District officers do not overstep their role as Protectors of local law and state law and enter into immigration law, which is not their purview and yet can easily encroach upon their work. Every single component of this effort in Los Angeles is a way of lighting yet another candle to create light out of the dark sense of pending disaster for millions of people. 
We are the generators of Light. We are the ones that must bring light into the world, we must force that light in as we see Darkness all around and a growing sense of such Darkness as we reach the darkest days of this season. We cannot expect things to just fix themselves. We cannot wait until light comes because as the days get shorter, Hanukkah teaches us of the urgency of now – that me must demand action and that we cannot assume self-correction. As one labor leader in Los Angeles is known to have said, when we fight, we win. The Maccabees fought, and so must we, waging war against the forces that would create ever-growing Darkness and black holes. With every bone of my body, and with every spark of light that I can find in my brothers and sisters and comrades all around, we will bring light into this world. Happy Hanukkah, happy holidays, and may each of us help to create Light during this season.