Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,
I woke this morning to news of yet another antisemitic attack during Chanukah — this time a stabbing at a Chanukah celebration in Rockland County, New York. This is the eighth such incident I’ve seen in the news since Chanukah began. I expect that many of us are reading these news stories this week. And I expect that in response many of us are navigating a mixture of fear, anxiety, sorrow, and more besides.
As I was sitting with today’s news, I received a text from a member of one of the Cuban Jewish communities that we visited earlier this fall. She asked if we are all right, and said that they are concerned for our safety. In an instant, her heartfelt expression of care shifted my morning. And in assuring her that we are all right, and that though these are dark times I know that light will prevail, I reminded myself of what I know to be true.
In recent months the CBI Board has upgraded our security system so that we can be safer when we gather together in our synagogue for learning, for prayer, and for community. The best response to antisemitic attacks around the nation, and the best response to whatever arises in us because of those attacks, is precisely that — gathering together. As we move into 2020, may we continue to come together in our sorrow and in our joy.
And when we come together in 2020 for Shabbat and festivals, Hebrew school and Take & Eat, baby namings and funerals, may we bring our Christian and Muslim and Buddhist and Hindu and atheist and secular friends and neighbors along, too. Invite a friend or colleague who isn’t Jewish to services, or to seder, or to a Shabbat meal in your home. Because the better we know each other, the more we can stand together.
When we form connections across our differences, the northern Berkshire community is strengthened. Attacks like last night’s are rooted in fear of difference. The best antidote to that fear is to break down the barriers of not-knowing each other. And the best antidote to our own fears is to remind ourselves that we are not alone. That others care about us and will stand with us. That we are stronger together than we are alone.
(And — if these incidents are arousing fear and anxiety in you, please take care of yourself before you work on building bridges. “Put on your own oxygen mask first,” as airline flight attendants teach. I can recommend good therapists in the area if you are in need, and I am here if you want to talk about any of this. My hours will become more predictable once the school year begins again in a few days, but if you need me, reach out; I am here.)
At the City menorah lighting last week I said that to me the real miracle of Chanukah is the leap of faith. Someone chose to kindle the eternal lamp even though there wasn’t enough sanctified oil to last, and then somehow miraculously there was enough. The eternal light didn’t go out. It’s still burning. The light of our tradition still shines — in us. The light of hope shines in us too. In the words of Proverbs, our souls are God’s candles: it’s our job, with our actions and our mitzvot and our choices, to bring light to the world.
In the words of my friend and colleague Rabbi David Markus, “Where there is darkness, we ourselves must be the light.” These feel like dark times. We must be the light that the world needs. And when we shine, together our lights are more than the sum of their parts — like the blaze of the candles on a fully-illuminated chanukiyah, shining in our windows and across our social media feeds, proclaiming the miracle even now. Especially now.
May our chanukiyot shine brightly tonight. And may they illumine our hearts and souls so that our lives and our mitzvot and our actions in the world will shine ever-brighter.
With blessings of hope and light to all —