It’s hard not to notice that Chanukah and Christmas occur simultaneously this year! Some are calling it Chrismakah. Fun, but the symbolic possibilities are much richer than that. The holiday of Chanukah and the holy day of Christmas both have their roots in the winter solstice, each spiritual community cajoling its participants to incorporate that beautiful pagan practice into something specific to each religion’s perspective. Both Christmas and Chanukah are festivals of light.

In Jewish tradition, there is a morning prayer that welcomes the light of each new day. It has many glorious images and wonderful poetic phrases. For me, the most wonderful of these phrases is that which celebrates the Oneness-of-All for the “lights of light”. We often hear a similar phrase, referring to God as the “Light of lights”, that God is the ultimate “light.” “Lights of light”, on the other hand, emphasizes and expresses awe and wonder at the many lights that “Light” creates. Jews create light. Christians create light. Muslims create light. Hindus create light. Buddhists create light. Sikhs create light. All spiritual paths, whether they are of a group or individuals, create light.

The coming together of Chanukah and Christmas creates a symbolic opportunity. It’s an opportunity for us not to merge these lights but rather to recognize and celebrate them for their uniquenesses and for the greater light they create when their individualities stand together, not melded, but honored for their differences. Most importantly, if we only create this greater light only during this “season”, we’re missing the point. We need to do it every day and always.

Today and tomorrow we need each other’s respect. Today and tomorrow we need each other’s love. Today, tomorrow and every day we need each other’s light.

[I’ve attached my song “Two Candles” written with Larry Steelman. Larry’s playing keyboard and the additional vocals are from Lisa Sharlin. Enjoy]

Resolution and Resolve

Some of us may be having a hard time with a United Nations resolution that demands that Israel halt the building and expansion of settlements in the West Bank. It may seem that Israel is singled out in this decades-long conflict for which no end is apparent. I understand your feeling because I have reacted similarly to UN resolutions. No matter how liberal many of us are, we become extremely cautious, protective and, dare I say, conservative, when it comes to our Jewish nation, Israel. I love Israel and that’s why I want what is best for Israel, peace – via a two-state solution with Palestine.
Last Friday’s Security Council resolution is not in the same category as many from the past. It is more comprehensive. It strives to be balanced by saying that violence must end. Terror and incitement must end. In addition, this resolution calls for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.
One of the issues that the resolution does not resolve, but rather leaves to negotiations, is the status of Jerusalem. For me, the there is no place I’ve ever been like Jerusalem, and much of what I feel is inexplicable in concrete terms. I think it’s that way for most who’ve been there or live there. Jerusalem is symbolic for so many in so many ways. Jerusalem is powerful and that feeling of power can intoxicate and that toxicity has desecrated Jerusalem by turning it into a battlefield. The resolution should have set as the goal the internationalization of Jerusalem, with the further intention for both Israel and Palestine to place their respective capitols there.
It took courage, not weakness, for President Obama and his administration to resist those who were urging the United States to use our UN veto power to nullify this resolution. It was out of love and concern for Israel’s present and future that the President took a firm stance, pro-peace, anti-incitement and pro-two-state solution. This was not a swipe against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The President took a position that gives possibility to both a short-term end to hostilities and a long-term road to peace, cooperation and symbiosis.
I take it as no small coincidence that this resolution came on the cusp of our celebration of Chanukah. Chanukah is a holiday that celebrates cultural integrity and respect. Chanukah celebrates a miracle – the miracle of trying something that has a slim possibility of working. That is precisely the step that the Security Council took . Over two-thousand years ago our ancestors tried something that they knew might not work, lighting the candelabra of the Temple in Jerusalem from a small cruse of oil that would only last one day. Instead, somehow the oil lasted for eight days until more kosher oil could be retrieved. Last Friday a resolution was passed that encouraged the same kind of hope, the same kind of belief in possibility. Jewish tradition teaches us that while we may believe in miracles…we should not depend on them. That means, always, that we never just sit around and wait for miracles to occur, we make them happen.
The Haftarah for the Shabbat of Chanukah (this coming Saturday), is from the book of Zechariah. It’s most famous line is, “[Change will come] Not by might, not by power, but rather by The-Spirit-of-All.” I think that pretty much says it. Continue to have a meaningful Chanukah – filled with hope, miracles, empowerment, and freedom and sovereignty for all peoples.