When most people think of Hanukkah, the first things that come to mind have absolutely nothing to do with social justice. Let’s be honest, our priorities rest with sufganiyot, latkes, and dreidels for the Festival of Light. (And that’s OK, although your doctor might disagree!) Regardless of how we choose to celebrate Hanukkah, there remains an important social justice theme within the ancient story, and it’s up to us to keep that tradition alive throughout the winter holiday season, especially today.
The forgotten theme of Hanukkah is about the Jewish responsibility to do what is right. As it goes, the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple and, recognizing that the ner tamid had only a single day’s oil, they jumped into action, sending a scout out to find replenish the supply. The Maccabees did this not because of any great reward that might come their way, but because taking action, even against insurmountable odds, was the right thing to do. They knew that finding the oil would not be easy or convenient – after all, it took 8 days for the scout to return!
I am a true believe that the Jewish people have a unique ability to hold out hope even when the odds are stacked against us, and this speaks volumes to our commitment to doing right. We are unable to ignore problems. When we see injustice, we act to right the wrong. We understand that both our actions and our words speak loudly, and we understand that it is our responsibility to use both in order to make the world a better place. Righteousness is woven into the Jewish DNA.
While Hanukkah may be in our rearview mirrors, the “season of giving” continues and presents us with innumerable opportunities not only to serve the broader communities in which we live, but also to keep the spirit of Hanukkah alive.
Each December 25, I am reminded of a story I read in my youth about a Jewish judge would volunteer his time every Christmas Day, taking care of clerical work in a local jail so that some of the day-to-day staff could remain home with their families. When I was in college and working at a 24/7 business, I adopted the same mentality, working each Christmas morning so that my colleagues did not have to. After all, it’s the little things that we do – however inglorious, inconvenient, or “unfun” – that bring Light to those around us.
This year (5773, not 2012), the URJ, RAC, and North American Reform community are working hard to bring new light to those who are less fortunate. Whether renewing our Nothing But Nets campaign to stop the spread of Malaria in Africa, swabbing cheeks in order to expand the bone marrow donor database through our partnership with Gift of Life, or fighting injustice in the halls of Congress, our community has so many opportunities to bring light to this world.
So, even if you are sitting at home today, enjoying the warmth of your home with family and friends, take a few minutes to think about how you can bring Light to the world, and how Reform Judaism helps you do that. Remember those who aren’t as fortunate as we are, who must work on the holidays to put food on the table, or who don’t have a home to return to each night. And remember your obligation to act for the welfare of us all, even when it seems like making change is an impossible task.