Spread Light Throughout Our World By Rabbi Judy Chessin

Billings Hanukkah

As we kindle our Hanukkah menorahs, only a month after the horrifying “Tree of Life Synagogue” shooting in Pittsburgh, we might be reminded of this season in years past in Billings, Montana.

Twenty-five years ago, in 1993, white supremacists in Billings broke windows of Jewish homes which displayed menorahs. In a sign of solidarity, thousands of non-Jewish families and businesses placed Hanukkah menorahs or pictures in their own windows! That story exemplified America at its best. It reminded our nation that when there are prejudice and bigotry against any race, religion or nationality, we are all victims of hate.

A quarter of a century later, as our Jewish community was rocked yet again by hatred, we were likewise also overwhelmed by outpourings of love and solidarity. After the events in Pittsburgh last month, friends and neighbors from all walks of life held out their hands in love and support to our Jewish community. Temple Beth Or received cards, letters, flowers, calls, and offers of help. We heard from our Muslim neighbors and from churches from all around Ohio. People of all faiths came to our services of healing to express their solidarity and support and to offer hugs or simply stand by us in silent witness.  

I was immeasurably touched to receive a large packet of letters from an entire public school high school class to whom I had spoken earlier in the season. All students expressed sorrow that the Jewish people were suffering and condemned the hatred and violence which is becoming more and more common-place in their world.

Hanukkah is the festival of military victory but it is also a festival of miracles. A rabbi was asked why we celebrate Hanukkah for eight days and not seven. After all, what kind of a miracle was the first day of Temple dedication, since presumably the single jar of oil should have burned at least a day? And the rabbis answered that the very fact that our ancestors lit the first lamp in spite of having had to fight, in spite of their losses, in spite of their pain – that the Jews had enough faith to kindle the menorah at all was the first miracle.

Hanukkah teaches us that we will probably always have to battle to combat oppression and tyranny. But it also teaches that we must remain hopefully optimistic and join hands with good people everywhere, who join us in the healing task of repairing our broken world, Tikkun Olam. No other festival reminds us as vividly that we cannot drive out darkness with more darkness, but rather by having the faith and courage to spread the light.

Chag Urim Sameach,

Happy Festival of Lights.

Rabbi Judy Chessin