By Angela Zanelli, friend of Am Haskalah

For the last few years, I have had the pleasure of writing a Chanukah article for a magazine. I like to focus on the concept of light and different ways that we can bring more light into the world, both literal and symbolic. Lighting candles, smiling at a stranger, doing mitzvoth (good deeds) – these are the things I believed in and wrote about. I have always been one to say that the more good you put out into this world, the more you will get back in return. However, this year it pains me to tell you that things are different. I write this with a heavy heart as I sit and watch our country become further divided. Neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, sister against sister.

Before you continue reading, I need to tell you that this article is not going to be politically correct. You may even think that it’s one-sided and there is a very good chance that you will not agree with everything I say. Yet, just be careful to decipher between opinion and truth and know that staying quiet and turning a blind eye is what got us here in the first place.

As a result of the events that took place on Tuesday, November 8th, our lives as Americans will be forever changed. I know mine has. I am a Jewish, gay, woman living in Pennsylvania. My wife and I are raising three empowered young ladies in a world where swastikas appear on playgrounds, the President-elect is a self-proclaimed misogynist, and the KKK is holding recruitment rallies. Since the election, day after day, hour after hour, we as a people have been gradually torn apart. No matter what side of the coin you are on, it’s apparent that darkness has settled upon us. Some people liken this experience to the atrocities of World War II, the pain of Women’s Suffrage, or the hard fought journey of the Civil Rights Movement. I think it’s all of those and I have sat back and watched in one month the most revered country in the world take one giant leap backwards.

Thus, as I sit here I find it quite timely and ironic to write about a holiday that symbolizes the exact opposite of what we are presently living. Chanukah is a story of pure triumph over the oppressors. It’s about miracles, light, and focusing on the beauty that is found within. In fact, the menorah lighting itself symbolizes chasing away forces of darkness. But here we are. Here we are preparing ourselves for four years where we will see landmark rulings by the supreme law of the land overturned; discrimination running rampant in our communities; and the G-d-given rights of women, Muslims, gays, Jews, and more challenged. What else can I really say? I was truly at a loss for words so I looked for some guidance.

In the early part of the 1st Century CE, Hillel – the great leader of the Jewish Supreme Court in the Land of Israel – said:

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”
This is a prime example of how we can look back and draw from our own history for answers. Here Hillel tells us that how we conduct our lives is in our own hands because no one else can do it for us; however, do not be fooled because if you exclude another then you give that person no value. To be selfish is to lose touch with the rest of the world and, more importantly, to lose touch with life. So the bottom line is, we all need each other. We cannot ignore our neighbors, our children, or our brothers – we are all one. And Hillel’s last sentence? It’s the most pertinent of all because we don’t know what each day will bring, thus we must treat every single moment as if it were a once in a lifetime opportunity.

I do not think it’s a coincidence that, this year, the first night of Chanukah falls on Christmas eve. It’s as if a higher power is saying, “Hey, we’re all in this together.” Of course I expect you all to showcase your menorahs front and center in your windows and light those Chanukah candles like never before. I want you to sing a little louder this year. Even if your children are young, help them light candles too.
And what else can you do? How can you ensure that the light from this holiday overpowers the darkness that abounds? Tell your daughters that they too can become engineers, scientists, and politicians; invite your gay neighbors for Shabbos; and be the first in line to register as a Muslim. Don’t be complacent and tell yourself that all of these atrocities of today were here before November 8th. If the courageous Maccabees took that same stance, we’d still be slaves in Egypt and there would be no Chanukah. We have an opportunity right now to rise above. If not now, when?

From my family to yours, wishing you all a most joyous, peaceful, and safe holiday.