Light amid darkness is a common theme in the winter festivals of many wisdom traditions. As befitting a Jewish holiday, the meanings of Hanukkah are many and varied, among these the resilience of the Jewish people and the imminence of miracles. These are welcome themes this year.
At vigil after rally after menorah lighting after social media post after dinner table conversations during Hanukkah, the theme has been reprised endlessly over the past days: in a world of darkness, we are called upon to generate light, even to be the light.
Finding the light – let alone being the light – is not easy. It is understandable to respond to events in the world today with hopelessness. A dramatic spike in antisemitic incidents locally and internationally is only an iceberg’s tip. It does not require a physical assault or desecrated property to be victimized by the tsunami of hatred sweeping over the world.
In the face of this conflict and the ensuing uptick in hatred, what have Canadian Jews done? In British Columbia and across the country, we have joined with Jews around the world to volunteer, donate and do whatever is necessary to repair, as much as it can be, the brokenness that happened on Oct. 7 and since.
This is the light we are called upon to be. This is the resilience that is not just a word, but an actualized embodiment of Jewish values.
It is worth remembering that the greatest period of growth and expansion of our own local community occurred in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Even as the magnitude of the unprecedented historic trauma was just beginning to be understood, new synagogues were constructed, new day schools opened, social service agencies launched, refugee aid groups mobilized. Hillel welcomed students for the first time at the University of British Columbia mere months after the end of the Second World War.
In the shadow of unfathomable darkness, Jews in Vancouver redoubled their commitment to nationhood. Similar epochs of regeneration took place worldwide, not least being the fulfilment of the ancient dream of Jewish self-determination as a free people in our own land.
This extraordinary burst of collective local regeneration was, of course, due in part to the influx of refugees, as well as the greatest period of sustained economic growth in human history. But, it was, first and foremost, an expression of the determination of the surviving remnant to plant for the future generations even while mourning those who had planted for them.
The chalutzim, the pioneers, who built the foundations of the community we live in today remain with us – some only in spirit, some very much still with us at advanced ages. Likewise, the founders who built the state of Israel are present, some in body but all in spirit, as we rededicate ourselves to girding the defence, strength and future of that country. Together, the examples of these forces of resilience are models for us to emulate as we struggle in these dark times.
We do not need to search hard for inspiration to get us through and embolden our commitment to carry on, to be the light. It is in the example of our families, our community and millennia of being a people that the poet Yehuda Amichai called “infected with hope.” May we merit to grow in hope, compassion, resilience and light in the coming days and weeks.