I am writing to lift up two different kinds of Hanukkah victories, this very week!
For these kinds of victories, you don’t have to be Jewish to celebrate the lights of Hanukkah.
Before I explain, I’m sharing with you Debbie Friedman herself singing the best of all Hanukkah songs, the one that comes from the Prophet Zechariah’s teaching — which traditionally we read on the Shabbat of Hanukkah:
“Not by might and not by power, but by my Breathing Spirit, says YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Infinite Breath of Life.”
Debbie turned this into a song:
Not by might and not by power
But by spirit alone shall we all live in peace.
The children sing, the children dream
And their tears may fall, but we’ll hear them call
And another song will rise
Another song will rise, another song will rise!
Not by might, not by power, shalom!
To hear Debbie teach it and sing it herself, click to: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJLZfrw86Ws>
One of the victories we won this week is a crucial change of public policy in just one State — New York — in dealing with the climate crisis. Burning fossil fuels is scorching our planet as a whole, and damaging specific regions of human society. The policy change to heal and protect us was announced on Hanukkah. An accident? An act of Providence? The whimsical intertwining of History and Torah?
Another victory of the Spirit has been the upwelling of fuller commitment and deeper willingness to act for justice against racism, especially police violence against unarmed Black civilians. All across America, we have seen that upwelling as tens of thousands of people move onto the streets and highways. Below you will find one story, closely connected with the vision of Hanukkah.
First: We welcome you to celebrate tonight a great Hanukkah victory!
For months, officials and observers of the administration of Governor Cuomo of New York have seen him edging closer to OK‘ing fracking in New York State.
But on the first day of Hanukkah, he reversed course — responding to intense public pressure — and declared an end to fracking in that State!
“Fracking” is the hydrofracturing of rock that bears burnable gas within it, by pouring tons of chemicalized water onto shale rock to break it open and release the gas. The result is poisoning of regional wells and water supplies and the release of the potent planet-heating gas methane. Both the surrounding region and the planet as a whole are endangered.
Governor Cuomo, responding to increasing public demand, chose to follow the advice of his health and environment commissioners — despite the pressure and desire of Big Oil, Big Unnatural Gas, and Big Banks to which he had been friendly.
“The ‘weak’ have overcome the powerful!” says a Hanukkah prayer!
And this victory was won not by violence, like the victory of the Maccabees over a great empire, but according to the call of the Prophet Zechariah: “Not by might and not by power, but by my Breathing Spirit, says YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Infinite Breath of Life.”
The Rabbis long ago welcomed that Call of Zechariah’s into the Haftarah to be read on the Shabbat in the midst of Hanukkah –- the Shabbat that begins tonight.
The victory in New York State was won by the “weapons of the Spirit” — lobbies and letters to the editor, rallies and prayer vigils, nonviolent civil-disobedience sit-ins and terms in jail.
So we will dedicate the Hanukkah lights tonight in honor of that victory for the people and the planet! And as we light the candles, we can sing Zechariah’s joyful shout-out with Debbie Friedman’s music and our own delight.
Another kind of victory of the Spirit comes not from a change in official policy but in a deepening commitment and deeper willingness to act for justice, among those human beings who breathe Spirit.
In this case, that commitment emerges in rabbis who decided to fulfill a fuller sense of the meaning of the Jewish festivals. Here is their story:
An Unusual and Stirring Way to Celebrate Chanukah
By Rabbi Dan Goldblatt
[Rabbi Gottlieb is the spiritual leader of Beth Chaim Congregation in Contra Costa County, California.. He serves as Vice President of the National Board of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and is also President of OHALAH, the Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal.]
I lit the first-night Chanukah candles with my wife and my older son and then I drove into San Francisco during a torrential downpour.
Huddled into a corner of a large plaza underneath a partial overhang were about 400 people. I put my tallit on over my coat and joined a group of rabbis who were invited to lead the march. There were some speakers, a Black activist, a Jewish woman of color, and Rabbi Mike Rothbaum, the Rabbi Educator of my shul, who is the Co-Chair of the Bay Area Regional Council of Bend the Arc. I can’t recall the words of the other speakers, but Mike said the following:
“When the call was first put out for the Jewish community to come together
tonight, to affirm that Black Lives Matter, one of my colleagues asked, “Why
pick the first night of Chanukah when we should be home with family?”
“Why are we here on a day devoted to celebration and family?
“We come together tonight, as a community, to answer that question, in a
clear, strong, united voice. We are here tonight because when the lives of
people of color are consumed without consequence, our joy is diminished and
“We are here tonight because we understand from our Torah and from our
kishkes that wherever people struggle against capricious rulers - whether
Antiochus, or Cossacks, or a corrupt district attorney - the Jew belongs
“We are here tonight because our Torah insists that all humans are created
b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of the God). We are here tonight to affirm the
divinity of all people - even if there are some in our society that tell us
that some of those lives are worth less. Especially if there are those who
tell us that those lives are worth less. We are here tonight because
silence equals consent.
“We are here tonight because Jewish tradition demands that we display our
Chanukah lights in a public window. So people can see them. So people can
see us - all of us, Jews of all colors and ethnicities. We are here because
our timeless flames are a public-service announcement. We are here because,
despite the injustice, and apathy, and disdain, and despair, the flames
point our way toward a Force More Powerful.
“We are here tonight because, on a day devoted to family, we raise up the
voices of the Jews of color in our communities. We are their family. They
are ours. Their pain is our pain. We are here as their witnesses. We
don’t dare abandon each other. We are here tonight because our central
prayer is Shema, which implores us, “Listen. Pay attention.” We are here
tonight because this moment demands that we listen and pay attention to the
voices of our African American neighbors, friends, congregants, and family.
“We are here tonight to listen for the blood of Eric Garner, and Mike Brown,
and Oscar Grant, and too many others, men and women, boys and girls,
straight and gay and trans, whose blood calls to us from the ground,
“Remember me. Don’t let my death be in vain.” We are here tonight to clear
a path, make a way, for a new day, a better way. Because our hearts are
breaking. And we are done waiting. We are here because, tonight, this is
the most Jewish thing we can be doing. This is the most Jewish place we can
We then marched (with police escort) across to Market Street with a signs
and banners including a very large banner, ‘Black Lives Matter.’ We sang
Jewish songs for peace and chanted and there was tremendous energy. The
rain let up as we marched down both sides of Market Street, the central
artery in the city. We stopped at the trolley turnaround and the singing
and chanting continued. The police stopped all traffic on Market and
There was a reading of names of people of color who died at the hands of the
police and vigilantes and then we all chanted the Mourner’s Kaddish, our
people’s prayer for the dead. The sound of all of those voices echoing off
the buildings on Market Street was haunting and unforgettable. I never in
my life thought I would hear the Kaddish chanted with such intensity in the
middle of downtown San Francisco. A large crowd of passersby lined the
sidewalks and bowed their heads. I saw some African Americans wipe tears
from their eyes. It was a Kaddish I will never forget.
We then stood in silence for 4 minutes and 28 seconds. A young woman rabbi,
Alissa Wise, told us that the 4 minutes were in protest for the 4 hours that
Michael Brown lay dead on the street before he received attention. The 28
seconds were in response to the reality that in this country an unarmed
black person is killed every 28 seconds by police or vigilantes.
While the gathering was clearly multi-generational, it was encouraging to know that it
was planned by young people and most of the marchers were young as well.
The march had been planned in coordination with the authorities and the
police were helpful as we moved through the city and it felt like they were
there for us. The marchers were respectful, demonstrative, and a strong
voice for justice.
As the march ended, the skies opened up and it poured.
Walking back to my car in the rain, I felt that I had experienced a
heartfelt Jewish cry for social justice and the privilege of freedom as an
American to gather and speak out in an orderly and respectful way. It was
an inspiring way to spend the first night of Chanukah.
To help The Shalom Center keep bringing you news and suggestions for healing Earth and seeking justice, please click on the “Donate” button on the left margin of our website.
Blessings of more light in what we learn, what we speak, and what we do! — Arthur