How We Find Light in the Darkness

13 December 2021

Just two days after Chanukah, a special film screening was held in New York City for “Let It Be Morning,” this year’s Israeli submission to the Oscars.

This very special film, which NIF is proud to support, is based on a novel by Palestinian citizen of Israel, Sayed Kashua. It offers a deep look into the lives of Palestinian citizens of Israel living betwixt and between. In a recent interview, Eran Kolirin, the film’s director, discussed the themes of lightness and darkness in the film. Darkness, he said, offers a kind of intimacy, a specificity, and that the deeper one goes cinematically into the claustrophobic darkness of a small village at night, the more it becomes a set up for the morning we all know is coming.

There is a similar play on darkness and light – with the knowledge that morning will eventually come – that I see in the symbolism of Chanukah. The holiday offers us both unexpected miracles and a story in which good triumphs over evil.

Chanukah, and the winter months more broadly, teach us that just when it’s darkest – just when all hope seems lost – dawn is on the way, if we hang on and keep fighting the good fight. It is then that we illuminate the darkness. It is then that we can re-learn to hope. It makes me think of the work of the New Israel Fund.

In Israel right now, many things are undoubtedly better than they were a year ago. The coalition government includes people who are working to make things better, more equal, and more just for everyone. As Roe v. Wade faces threats in this country, Nitzan Horowitz, Israel’s Minister of Health for the Meretz Party has vowed to update Israel’s outdated abortion laws. Nachman Shai, Minister of Diaspora Affairs for the Labor Party, said this week that this government is now setting plans in motion to renovate the non-Orthodox section of the Western Wall, and hopefully reinstate the 2016 agreement, shelved by former Prime Minister Netanyahu, that would facilitate egalitarian prayer.

But of course, it’s a mixed bag, and some things remain dark. As our Director in Israel Mickey Gitzin pointed out this week in his column for Haaretz, although Netanyahu may no longer be in office, his policies around occupation still are. The diplomatic “freeze” between the Israeli government and its Palestinian counterparts has not thawed, settlement growth has not slowed, and settler violence has not abated. Most troubling, Mickey writes, citing a new study commissioned by NIF, the conditions that brought us Bibi-ism did not depart when he did.

So how do we find the light? Where is our self-replenishing jug of oil? I’ll tell you. It’s in the work we do. It’s in the people who work every day to envision and put into practice what a better would could look like. There is no miracle, there’s only the vital, unglamorous, but still glorious work of working for a better future for all.

Last May, the worst interethnic fighting in decades broke out in Israeli cities where Arabs and Jews live together — cities like Lod, Ramle, Jerusalem, and others. And things looked bad. There were those who predicted civil war. There were those were afraid to leave their homes to walk to the corner store. That was a truly terrifying time when a profound sense of darkness permeated us all.

The New Israel Fund pushed back against the darkness with light.

We put out a call for proposals, asking people to submit initiatives that put Arab-Jewish partnership front-and-center — an initiative we called “Voices of Hope,” and we got back an overwhelming 600 applications. Yesterday, we announced the 21 winners of these grants, and we will divide the 1 million shekels we allocated for this project among them.

There are so many amazing things about this initiative—not the least of which is the diversity of our winners. From children to teachers, from techies to religious leaders. They span the length and breadth of Israel as well – some hail from “mixed” cities like Bat Yam, Lod, Ramle and Jaffa, but there are also number of winners who will be working with Bedouin deep in the Negev.

These initiatives – in particular, the ones that work with Bedouin who live in unrecognized villages with no running water or electricity (speaking of darkness) – give me a powerful sense of hope.

Every year, Chanukah restores that sense of hope for me.

It is only through true partnership that we can emerge from the darkness of “us versus them” and begin to see what it means to be “all of us.” Films like “Let it Be Morning” remind of us of what that looks like. Initiatives like “Voices of Hope” help us get there.

Let’s keep kindling lights like these in the darkness.