As the year comes to an end, it’s getting colder and darker (even here in California). Yet this year, winter’s darkness brings with it new great challenges. As the United States—and much of the wider world— endures yet another surge of the coronavirus, we are bracing ourselves for the night to get darker before dawn breaks.
But there is reason for hope.
In so many cultures around the world, when the sun’s light fades, we have winter-time rituals to get us through the dark months. As we light candles to illuminate the night, these flickering symbols remind us that there is hope—that day is coming. This year, that feels especially important.
The Irish poet Seamus Heaney writes that sometimes ” hope and history rhyme.” This year they do: Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, falls on the same day as International Human Rights Day. That is a fitting and beautiful coincidence. To me Chanukah is not just about making scarce resources last through hard times – the miracle of the ritual oil lasting through eight nights. It is also about the power of hope inherent in the act of lighting a candle to dispel the darkness around us.
When I light my Chanukah candles this year, I will be thinking about the light that comes from the miraculous work of our grantees in Israel, who fight what are often uphill battles—sometimes waged in the darkest of times—to build a more just and equal future.
This year, I will be lighting a candle for the human rights defenders, who stand up for the inherent dignity of every person, even when some find it easier to shield their eyes from the bitter truths that human rights champions endeavor to bring to light. And for the brave protesters—those heroes of democracy on the streets of Hong Kong and Belarus, Philadelphia-—and those Israelis who have poured into the streets of Jerusalem to keep alight the flame of Israel’s democracy.
Because their demand for a more just, more democratic society is our demand too.
I will be thinking of the healthcare workers around the world, who are on the frontline, caring for those who are sick, even at personal risk to themselves and their families. I will be honoring the activists for gender equality in Israel who are fighting to an end to gender-based violence and for liberation and justice for everyone. I will take a moment as well to celebrate the artists—because their work is not only essential in holding a mirror up to our societies, but also for nourishing our souls.
I will also kindle a light for the advocates. Those who argue in the courts and in the court of public opinion for equality under the law and equal access in the corridors of power. And I will be celebrating the organizers, those relentless bridge-builders forging partnerships across divides in Israel so that all people can feel a sense of belonging.
And I will be thinking, of course, of you. Because together, you, me, the New Israel Fund and our family of grantees—I believe we are the heart of the democratic pushback in Israel.
Together, we are standing guard to make sure that this terrible pandemic is not used as cover to advance an anti-democratic agenda. We are making sure that in this hour of crisis, no one is left out or left behind. Not on our watch. We will stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, through the dark until the dawn breaks.
Together we will be the light in these dark times.