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Celebrating the Chanukah lights, and other solstice holiday thoughts

With Chanukah now past, and the solstice just slipped, I am running out of time to post some thoughts about the holiday.

Seems like every year I read interpretations focused on the miracle, on the Judaean's faith in G-d, and the like. In these times, I find myself retelling a drash that I wrote many years ago. It feels even more apt today.

In December 1984 I found myself headed to Israel as part of a Jewish "Witness for Peace" tour, initiated by New Jewish Agenda (z"l). "Jewish" being no less expansive in those days than now, our trip included neopagan activisit/author Starhawk, and a host of others with greater/lesser connections to Jewish practice. We'd begin our mornings with a tree meditation from Star's "The Spiral Dance," followed by a round of "Hine ma tov."

The trip overlapped with Chanukah, and we had brought a chanukiyah and candles so that we could celebrate each night of the holiday (although I have no memory of either latkes or sufganiyot). Sharing the ritual with our hosts, most of whom had no idea what a "Jew" was, much less an inkling of the story behind the holiday, meant that I had to write a short drash (especially short--each sentence needed to be translated into Spanish to share with our hosts) about the holiday and what it meant.

The drash =was= short. I talked about how we celebrated events that occurred 2000 years ago when Judah Maccabbee--our Sandino--along with his father and brothers had led a successful revolt against the ruling tyrant. But, I continued, we don't celebrate the military victory. Relatively speaking, a military victory is easy. The hard part is creating a just, sustainable society, something that began with the miracle of oil that burned for 8 days (explain story of miracle), but then needed ongoing efforts and vigilance.

We didn't talk about how the Maccabbees ended up Hellenized, themselves, nor the ensuing period of war, fratricide, and ultimately, takeover by the Romans. We were hopeful at the time that the Sandinistas would succeed where the Maccabbees had failed. This year, I reflect that our own society, here in America where I was born, and where I have lived most of my life. We need to rededicate ourselves to fulfilling that promise first made by the Maccabbees.

As the days lengthen, and as we move again towards Spring, may the lights of Chanukah provide us with inspiration to re-engage with each other and find ways to create that just, caring society.