There is nothing new under the sun. As Rabbis at the world’s largest LGBTQ synagogue, we have seen hate, discrimination, and anti-semitism all too frequently. It’s in the space above the sun, in the spiritual place of unity, where we are able to create something new.
During the Chanukah story, when we fought for our right to keep our own identities and religious freedoms against the evil of hyper-nationalism, we rose above the physical limitations of that darkness and hate by tapping into the miraculous power of love, acceptance, and faithful optimism. We must respond now, like then, with a new commitment to increase the light as the way to dispel the darkness. Each day of Chanukah we add a candle to show that we ascend towards holiness, and are never complacent with the progress of yesterday.
The special prayer that was offered during this holiday, Psalms 30:2, models a timeless perspective on how we should respond to hate that wants to erase us out of existence. “I will exalt you, God, for You have drawn me up, and not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me.” The word in Hebrew to “draw up” is actually a contranym, meaning it has two opposite definitions, both to lower and to elevate. Just as the process of drawing water from a well first requires lowering an empty bucket, in order for it to be filled, so too the darkness is actually the process for the light, in that it obligates us to respond with a posture of creative production to be the light.
In these difficult times, we can already see the blessings that have come from our need to elevate each other. After the massacre in Pittsburgh, we saw an unprecedented amount of love and support. Our friends and neighbors, across all faith traditions, showed up for us across the country with actions of support and solidarity. Relationships within and between communities were strengthened and expanded as we came together with a unified voice of love over hate.
On Chanukah we give thanks and praise for our ability to continue holding all of our identities — without contradiction. In our tradition, the word “thanks” also means acknowledgement. We are so thankful to live in this great country that has provided support, protection, and freedoms for so many. We also acknowledge that all of this is being threatened and the fight for total equality is far from over.
The entrance to our synagogue reads, “It is good to give thanks to God ... to relate Your kindness by day and Your faith in the nights.” When things seem good and clear, like day, we can speak of the kindness that we experience. When we feel the darkness, even during the day, we speak from a perspective of faith because the goodness hasn’t been actualized yet. On a deeper level, we affirm our belief that God has faith in us to do something about it.
When we come out and shine our truth to the world, we are a light. When we help make it safe for others to do the same, we allow the light to spread. And when we all come together, appreciating the uniqueness of each candle, we become a light so powerful that space for hate no longer exists.
We must not be discouraged by the current rise of anti-semitism, islamophobia, white supremacy, homophobia, and transphobia. Rather, now is the time be motivated, inspired, and empowered to stand up, more proudly than ever, with our brothers, sisters, and siblings embracing the commonality of individuality.
We are thankful for decent people of all faiths, and good conscience, who elevate humanity above differences. In this, the darkest time of the year, and pivotal moment in our nation’s history, may we draw strength, joy, and clarity from the resistance of all those who have come before us and led by example. Darkness isn’t just the absence of light, but a call to be the light that will dispel it. It is the container that stores the most precious light, until we uncover it and let it shine through us. When we can see all people as the holy and irreplaceable candles of God, we will finally experience a true Festival of Lights.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum serves as spiritual leader of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York. Rabbi Mike Moskowitz studies, writes, and teaches on trans issues and Jewish sources at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, creating a body of work that Jews all over the world will be able to use.