Happy Chanukah! Hanukah! Hanukkah! However you want to spell it, this Chanukah (I like this spelling) has a very special and deep meaning for what is happening in the world right now. Although the story of Chanukah is not real, it still has a lesson that can be applied to black/brown/poor/queer/minority people: change will come, we must keep fighting. We cannot give up hope.
The short story: The Jewish people of Israel were living under Greek rule, and were forbidden to practice Judaism or study Torah (this part of the story is true). Some continued to study Torah and continue tradition, but if they were visited by the Greek army, they would pull out their dreidels and pretend to play a game. Soon, the Maccabean Revolt happened, and The Maccabees, despite all odds, defeated the Greek armies and took back the Second Temple.
The victorious Jewish people decided to rededicate their Temple to G-d by lighting a holy menorah. They soon realized that they only had enough oil for one night, but the small amount of oil lasted for eight entire nights. A miracle happened there. So we celebrate this miracle, and we hope for the miracles that are to come. But hope alone will not bring us the freedom and justice we so deeply desire. We need to be like the Maccabees-it’s time to fight back.
And this lesson isn’t just in a made up story. It’s also in the Torah itself. “Justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). It is literally our calling as a Jewish people to stand with the oppressed. It is our duty to support and help others, like the stranger in our midst.. I believe that we, as well as many others, will join this fight for a better tomorrow.
We will fight for $15 and a union for all low-wage workers. We will fight to end police brutality and mass incarceration. We will fight to end gender-based violence. We will fight for the rights of immigrants and refugees. We will fight until we are free from capitalism’s oppression.
During this festival of lights, we celebrate our existence as black/brown/poor/queer/minority people. We are still here. They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.
And we won’t stop growing.
Ariela Perez-Wallach, MSW, is an organizer with Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Citizen Action of New York. You can find more of her writings here.