by Adam Silver
(Calgary) – It feels strange for me to be writing about Chag Urim (The Festival of Lights) during these very dark days for our local and global Jewish community. In a typical year, I would focus on the joy of Chanukah, the happiness we experience when lighting the Chanukiah (Chanukah Menorah), the smells and tastes of the latkes and sufganiyot (donuts), and the fullness we feel when gathering with family and friends to celebrate.
This year, however, is different. There are people in our community who might feel unsafe and choose to keep their candles away from the window, instead of displaying them with pride. There are community members who will tighten their circles of guests, instead of expanding them. In addition, there are many of us who will feel conflicted in doing any kind of celebrating while our brothers and sisters in Israel, around the world, and right here at home are in so much pain.
I understand that I started my message with gloom and doom. I would, however, like us to take stock of the strength and resilience of our community in the face of escalating antisemitism, and the relentless onslaught of hate, disinformation, and continued marginalization. Our synagogues, schools, JCC, and other community partners have continued to provide programs and services to bring us together. The very same university students who are experiencing vast and significant issues on their campuses have gathered by the dozens for support groups, social events, and educational programs. Our teens in BBYO, NCSY, and C-Teen are also continuing to hold events, attend conventions in large numbers, and demonstrate their Jewish pride. And, our community and allies came together on a crisp and cold Tuesday night to stand, 500 strong, in solidarity with the hostages and with Israel. We are a strong, caring, resilient community and though we have moments of concern, we will navigate this long road together.
This Chanukah, I would like to encourage our community to gather with family and friends, to light candles, to display them proudly, and to defy the hate that has become all too common. I would also like to encourage all of us to invite friends and allies from outside the Jewish community to share Chanukah with them. The Chanukah story notes that our ancestors didn’t give up when being persecuted. They found ways to learn, celebrate, and preserve our traditions. They also found ways to fight back against their enemies. To be clear, we must commit ourselves to live proud Jewish lives, while also finding ways to fight back against antisemitism and those who promote hatred against Jews. Fighting back takes many forms – practicing our traditions despite being fearful; challenging those who tell mistruths and lies; demanding better and more from political and institutional leaders; and building bridges with allies and friends of our community.
We cannot cave to the darkness we are seeing. Chanukah remains a time of light and miracles. We must spread the light…and the miracles. It is in each one of us to make the world just a little brighter and a lot better. As we navigate the days, weeks, and months ahead, and we continue to combat antisemitism and the demonization of Israel, I hope we will derive energy and sense of purpose from Chanukah – from its story and from the way it puts smiles on our faces as we gather with those we love. Perhaps, most of all, it reminds us that even in darkness we can find happiness, internal resolve, and miracles.
Wishing you and yours a Chag Chanukah Sameach.
Adam Silver is CEO, Calgary Jewish Federation.