Rabbi’s Corner: Shabbat Chanukah – Lighting Sparks in the Darkness (and an Update on the Santa Ana City Council Meeting)

This past Tuesday evening, Rabbi Gersh Zylberman (Senior Rabbi of Temple Bat Yahm, Newport Beach) and I attended the Santa Ana City Council meeting to speak against the draft resolution in “Solidarity with the Palestinian People and in Support of a Ceasefire.” As I wrote to you earlier, the resolution was full of egregious false statements, antisemitic and anti-Israel comments and other erroneous statements. If passed, it would foment further antisemitic acts here in our Santa Ana community.

The meeting was extremely long, difficult, and painful to sit through. It was disheartening that there were so few members of the Jewish community present. However, ultimately, after two hours of comments, and after the council members had their discussion, the resolution did NOT pass.

This resolution, and others similar to this, are being put forth at city councils across North America. Since 2021, we have seen an increase in antisemitic acts in our country. Since October 7, 2023, these antisemitic actions have increased exponentially.

The results of the Santa Ana City Council meeting show us that there is hope for good people to make change. There is an opportunity to join together in partnership with members of the greater Jewish community and our allies in the non-Jewish community to advocate for truth, justice, and right-action. This was a spark of hope, a symbolic spark of “light” during these dark and difficult days. How fortuitous that this spark of “light” started to burn and grow the week that Chanukah, our Festival of Light begins. I do not think it is a coincidence.

Tonight is the second night of Chanukah. We tell the story of the victory of the Maccabees, a small band of Jewish fighters, struggling for religious freedom, fighting against the behemoth Greco-Syrian army, trying to impose their will on us, attempting to crush our spirit, our hope, our very existence. Yet, we did not despair: we stood up for what was right, just, and true. We fought for our ability to practice our traditions and religion, and not to have others impose their will upon us. We held onto a spark of hope, a symbolic spark of “light” that we would overcome adversity and God would give us the strength to survive and thrive.

On the Shabbat of Chanukah, we also read the biblical story of Joseph. His brothers hated him and threw him into a deep dark pit, prior to selling him to a group who took him to Egypt. Later, he is also thrown into prison in Potiphar’s house. In both instances, his life looks bleak and hopeless. Joseph could have been filled with despondency, yet he held onto the notion that his life was of value and that God had a greater purpose for him. He found a way to hold onto a spark of hope, a symbolic spark of “light” for himself, imagining how his life would unfold once he emerged from darkness into light. That spark of light grew brighter and brighter, enabling him to become the visionary leader that eventually led Egypt, and his family out of a great famine.

Just as the Maccabees fought against those who were more powerful than them, and just as Joseph struggled to find light in the darkness, we too, are struggling against forces that seem to overpower us at times: social media filled with terrible images that fan the flames of hatred, groups who are well-organized who ignite sparks of hatred, causing huge metaphoric fires of antisemitism on college campuses, high school classrooms, city councils, and so much more.

Our hearts are with our brothers and sisters in Israel at this time as well: Israel is struggling to win a difficult war against the heinous, barbarous Hamas. They are fighting for the return of the remainder of the hostages. The media is portraying Israel as the perpetrators of violence, rather than as defending itself against Hamas who viciously attacked innocent civilians on October 7th. Where do we find hope in this darkness? Where do we find the “spark of light?”

The prior release of some of the hostages during the pause in the fighting, the Santa Ana City Council meeting and the story of Chanukah remind us that we have the ability to prevail, if we do not give up hope. If we light the flames of justice, truth, and peace, and hold them high. All it takes is one spark to light the spark of another.

This Chanukah, let us join together to light our flames of justice, truth, unity, peace, and harmony and hold them high. Let us speak truth to power, and stand united with our people.

Let us not give up hope that the hostages will come home, that peace will prevail, that we can life safely and securely wherever we may be.

Am Yisrael Chai – The People of Israel Lives!

Chag Urim Sameach – Wishing you a light-filled Chanukah!

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