Ancient Torah: “You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge with you from his master. He shall live with you in any place he may choose, among the settlements in your midst, wherever he chooses. You must not oppress him.” (Deut. 23:16-17.) "New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" As our Festivals of Light approach in this season of darkness, we can light every light from this Lamp of Liberty. 1. Jewish congregations can this Hanukkah (from the night of December 6 through the night of December 13) invite Christians and Muslims to share in kindling the Light of Liberty. 2. We can all make our Lady Liberty the symbol of a new commitment to welcome the persecuted. Copy the photograph above with these words that accompany it; share them with your friends, pin them on your doors, send them through the Internet. 3. We can commit one morning of Hanukkah to call the US Capitol at 202/244-3121, ask for each of our own two Senators, and urge them to reject these odious attacks that pretend to be attacking refugees, or immigrants, or Muslims – but are really attacking America the Beautiful -- “O beautiful for patriots’ dream that sees beyond the years/ Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears!” Hanukkah reminds us: We can free ourselves from tyrannies today, making ourselves nonviolent Maccabees. Hanukkah reminds us: We can make one day's oil fulfill the needs of eight days' worth of living, instead of so recklessly burning oil that its fumes burn up the Earth, our common home. Hanukkah reminds us: there is a connection between trampling on "outsiders" and choking off the air that breathes all life. Hanukkah reminds us: there is a connection between nurturing the tender shoots of freedom and nurturing the endangered seeds of Earth. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ For me this is a deeply personal issue, as well as a profoundly public one. On Sunday afternoon December 6, just before the first night of Hanukkah, my beloved life-partner, co-author, co-teacher, co-learner Rabbi Phyllis Berman will be celebrating her retirement from 36 years as founder-director of a unique school for refugees and immigrants. (If you want to join in that celebration and/ or support the school, click to-- http://riversidelanguageprogram.org/changing-of-the-guard.html ) All those years, I have heard and seen her work to teach the English that makes it possible for these new Americans to get jobs, learn our politics, heal the sick, give their energy and their compassion to help others. All those years, I have heard her tell the stories of how immigrants from nations and peoples bitterly at war with each other learn as they work together in the intensively immersive Riverside Language Program – learn to live in peace and respect and dignity with each other. On December 6, Phyllis will be handing over a “baton” to the next director of the school. And that baton will be a replica of the Statue of Liberty, torch held high of welcome, freedom, compassion, and enlightenment. How sorrowful to be doing this in the midst of an explosion of contempt and hatred for some of these frightened, bereft refugees. How hopeful to be doing this to reaffirm and blazon forth the values of our Lady Liberty, in the teeth of those who are betraying them! ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ What leads us to see the need for sharing the Festival of Light, especially with Muslims who are our cousins in the Tent of Abraham?
A leading candidate for President has stated that if he is elected, he will require every Muslim in our country to register on a data base and be surveilled in every travel and travail. Another has said that even an orphaned four-year-old child should be banned from refuge if s/he comes from Syria. A third has said that only Christians, not Muslims, should be allowed refuge in what we claim to be America. Twenty governors have said their states are closed to refugees fleeing persecution -- so much for "He shall live with you in any place he may choose, among the settlements in your midst."
Whatever else Hanukkah means this year, each night we light the candles we must see them as the lamp of Liberty, lifting a light against the darkness. And this moment is not just a Jewish moment: You don't have to be Jewish to smell the stink of Nazism, though it helps. There have always been two Americas:
· Jefferson writing "All men are created equal" and championing religious freedom; Jefferson owning slaves.
· Jackson celebrating workers; Jackson forcing the Cherokee nation on the Trail of Tears.
· Roosevelt denouncing economic royalists and creating Social Security; Roosevelt forcing Americans of Japanese ancestry and culture into internment camps.
· Johnson evoking “We shall overcome” as he urged Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act; Johnson sending 55,000 Americans and more than a million Vietnamese to their deaths.
· Imperial wars against Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq.
· The "conquest" of the West -- indeed conquering, shattering ecosystems.
· Foreshadowing the arrogant Carbon Pharaohs of our own day, despoiling Mother Earth for huge profits, at last putting human civilization itself in jeopardy, even while knowing the consequences (as Exxon did 40 years ago, and chose to lie and purchase liars to make sure the truth would not decrease its profits).
Which America shall we choose to be, in this moment? We can stand against the fear and rage and arrogance that want to scrap the Bill of Rights and make pariahs of Muslims. We can stand against the arrogance and greed that are willing to scrap our Mother Earth, force millions to flee their famine-haunted homes, become refugees in a world that will not offer refuge. (Is it an accident that Carbon Billionaires who are willing to burn the earth are funding the election campaigns of those who are fanning the flames that stink of Nazism?)
Arrogance and cruelty among the powerful breed hatred, rage, and still more cruelty among the powerless. The atrocities of Paris just past had some of their roots in America's own arrogance and cruelty, and they are breeding more subjugation for the Paris about to come, the Paris of the climate conference. There were three major roots of ISIS. One was the climate-crisis, global-scorching drought that consumed Syria and drove its starving farmers into the cities -- a drought fueled by greedy "Western" and "American" Carbon Pharaohs. The second root of ISIS was that the tyrannical Assad ignored these starving farmers until they lit rebellion. The third root was the US War Against Iraq that shattered the whole Middle East. And that war itself was shaped by some of the Carbon Pharaohs, lusting for fuller control of the great Middle Eastern pools of oil. Meanwhile, in response to the worsening climate crisis, the world's governments agreed to meet in Paris, to try one last time to control emissions of CO2 and methane. Climate-concerned citizens spent months organizing toward a great march of hundreds of thousands of people in Paris, to remind the governments that all Earth and all peoples are at stake. But because cruel terrorists reenacted their own traumas by murdering citizens of France, the French government has forbidden the March that was intended to be a human voice for human survival. At just the very moment in all our history when the human species needs to join together all its diverse wisdoms to face a universal danger -- at just that moment arrogance, cruelty, and hatred feed upon themselves and grow still worse. The climate crisis breeds the terror that makes it even harder to cope with the climate crisis. Just as we learn that the melt of Arctic ice will release huge new amounts of methane to heat our world still more -- the disastrous feedback loop in the physical world -- so we are facing a disastrous feedback loop in the social world. We can interrupt this feedback loop. We can light the candles of freedom from hatred, freedom from tyranny, freedom from the burning of our common home, freedom from the Carbon Pharaohs who have become the arsonists of everywhere. Hanukkah recalls the rededication of a sacred Temple that had been desecrated. Instead of merely remembering, let us act to rededicate our own sacred temples of today: Our desecrated Temple Earth. Our desecrated Temple America. The desecrated Temples of our own inner selves, connected by compassion with all the souls around us.