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Lights in the Darkness

Candle burning against dark background

Since I’ve arrived in Israel, I’ve been hearing the phrase “during these dark days” as a preamble to any discussion of social and political issues. The atmosphere is tentative, and a bit heavy. Along with winter’s progression of light becoming dimmer and dimmer, the almost daily terrorist attacks emphasize a sense of helplessness and doom. Many Israelis feel paralyzed: not believing the situation can change, they also don’t think that there is anything they can personally do to change it.

One sad outcome of the present situation is the fear that Israeli Jews feel about going out to restaurants or large public gatherings. This fear is also felt by many Israeli Arab citizens, and even more so by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem or Arab towns and villages on the other side of the Green Line. They are very worried that someone will attack them, thinking they are terrorists.

These fears contribute to an unpleasant atmosphere of worry and suspicion. And yet, Hanukkah is approaching, and bakeries and supermarkets are filled with sufganyiot (Hanukkah donuts) and children’s gifts, and plans for holiday celebration proceed. This is the reality of life that most of Israel’s residents and citizens feel: fear, suspicion and worry on one hand, and a determination to go on with life as usual on the other.

Some individuals and organizations though, are determined to go further: to live life to its fullest, and at the same time break the cycle of suspicion, hate, and fear. They are hoping to disrupt the current dynamic and create a new one through small, symbolic actions designed to change attitudes.

There is an old children’s Hanukkah song, known and sung by all that expresses the hope for light and change through small action.

We come to chase the dark away In our hands are light and fire. Each one of us is a small light But together, the light is mighty. Flee, darkness and night! Make way for the light!

Chasing the Darkness/באנו חושך לגרש

This sentiment—that each small act can bring some light, while a community acting together shines brightly—is the idea that drives some of these change agents.

VeNislach: Jews and Arabs connect, converse and create is an online community created at the beginning of the month of Elul in order to contain a Jewish-Muslim dialogue of statements, poems and stories of atonement and forgiveness. Once the High Holidays ended, the project continued both due to its success and power, and to the ongoing need to struggle with pain and hurt. Towards Hanukkah, VeNislach is partnering with Mevior (“the one who brings light,” an initiative of the Israeli Reform Movement) to bring light to the darkest time of year. Individuals and families of Muslims, Christians and Jews are creating lanterns that will all be lit at the same time, echoing the Hanukkah song’s message that many small lights can join together to shine mightily.

Tag Meir was created a few years ago as a response to the militant, fundamentalist Tag Mechir (“price tag”), a militant group which took it upon themselves to “punish” those, mostly Arabs, who they viewed as hurting the Jewish people and its land. Many acts of violence were perpetrated through “price tag.” Tag Meir (“shining tag”), which in Hebrew echoes the sound of its anathema, reaches out to victims of violence on both sides of the conflict by offering joint prayers, food, repair of physical damage, advocacy for proper legal action when necessary, and generally being a kind, warm presence in the face of pain.

Both of these initiatives respond to the darkness brought about by human actions by carrying out corresponding acts of kindness and connection  across religious and ethnic divides.

May we each find a way of creating a small light, and join with others to form a larger, fuller light that chases away apathy, fear and despair. May the holiday of Hanukkah and these admirable organizations provide us inspiration in crating a world that acts with understanding, empathy, respect and hope.

Adina Newberg, Ph.D.

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