Celebrating Creativity and Bravery on Chanukah

23 December 2019
By: Alexandra Stein

Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe
And light one candle for those who are suffering
Pain we learned so long ago
Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart
And light one candle to find us together
With peace as the song in our hearts
— Peter Yarrow, “Light One Candle”

When, in the early 1980s, the American-Jewish singer-songwriter Peter Yarrow brought his now-hit song “Light One Candle” to American and Israeli audiences, he was following in two proud Jewish traditions: mutual responsibility, and the ability to draw from our intellectual and cultural heritage – in this case, Chanukah – in an adaptable way, with an eye towards growth and healing in the present.

Chanukah has changed a lot over the centuries, from a celebration of military victory to a celebration of miracles and light, with each generation introducing its own innovations and reflections. This process of transformation has required both creativity and bravery: creativity, to see new possibilities for change in that which has been passed down to us, and bravery, to step into those possibilities in spite of the uncertainty inherent in change.

In my time as a Froman Fellow at the New Israel Fund’s New York offices, I have been moved and impressed to see the same creativity and bravery in many of NIF’s grantees. This fall in New York City, we were visited by representatives from grantees including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), which litigates for human rights in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, and Standing Together, a grassroots movement of Jewish and Palestinian Israeli citizens working for peace and equality. In September, NIF’s 40th anniversary gala in New York featured a conversation between two organizers with longtime commitments to the labor and feminist movements, amongst other causes: Labor leader and Jewish American Randi Weingarten and Palestinian-Israeli organizer Maisum Jaljuli.

How do these activists and organizations keep going, and how do they understand the goals of their work? One of the most hopeful messages from our grantees is that Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel on the Left, once largely siloed in separate political worlds and therefore unable to support each other, are now engaged in unprecedented levels of coalitional work. They are talking to each other about how they can support each other. This kind of communication and collaboration opens up tremendous opportunities for systemic change, especially in areas of shared values and interests like freedom of religion, economic and racial justice, an end to the occupation, and equal status and opportunity for all of Israel’s citizens.

Each one of us is one small light, but together we shine bright, a popular Israeli Chanukah song penned in 1960 teaches. Its words remind us that, if we choose to accept it, a legacy of mutuality and solidarity can be our inheritance. If coming together was easy, we probably wouldn’t need to sing about it. But it can be really hard, and so we do sing. We also read, write, speak, listen, and do all we can to learn from one another and join in each other’s struggles.

This Chanukah, may we see and honor the light in one another, and step bravely and creatively into possibilities we are just beginning to imagine.

Alexandra Stein

Alexandra Stein is a third year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. She is this year’s Elissa Froman Fellow in NIF’s New York office.