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Hanukkah and finding hope at end of 2016

December 31, 2016 Leave a comment

I like it when Hanukkah coincides with Christmas, as it did this year. I tend to do ALL THE HOLIDAYS, especially given how grim 2016 has felt, and coming into the misery of winter (I do try and look for the positives, but when its grey, rainy, cold and dark outside so much of what I do to cheer myself up and enjoy life – spontaneous bike rides into the mountains or seaside, hillwalking, wild camping, exploring highlands and islands – is less available/fun (Scotland is rainy rather than snowy so far) and so I need to work harder at keeping the glums at bay) I go fullout tinsel, pretty lights, christmas foods (3 batches of homemade mince pies this year!) and annual trip to the forest to fetch in an evergreen tree to decorate for solstice. Plus Hanukkah – my spiritual practice reflects my dual roots of family heritage and geographical home; from the latter I take christmas, hogmanay and solstice.

Last year for Hanukkah I focused each night on inspirations that lit up the darkness and spread hope and possibility for change. This year I didn’t feel that so much. So I read some  mainstream Hanukkah reflections and this particularly touched me:

“[W]hat was the miracle of the first night? The light that should have lasted one day lasted eight. But that means there was something miraculous about days 2 to 8; but nothing miraculous about the first day.

Perhaps the miracle was this, that the Maccabees found one cruse of oil with its seal intact, undefiled. There was no reason to suppose that anything would have survived the systematic desecration the Greeks and their supporters did to the Temple. Yet the Maccabees searched and found that one jar. Why did they search? Because they had faith that from the worst tragedy something would survive. The miracle of the first night was that of faith itself, the faith that something would remain with which to begin again.

(from http://www.rabbisacks.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/8-Short-Thoughts-for-8-Chanukah-Nights.pdf )

And so it is with the spirit of resistance, the spirit of  that is one of the things I mean when I speak of G-d in prayers.

What did I hear again and again following brexit and then again after Trump was elected? “Lets get to work” I’m sure you all did too. An *upsurge* in people looking to respond to darkness with action. People did not give up, despite all the racism and nationalism… no, *because* of the racism and nationalism. I have witnessed more and more people, previously unwilling to take action, now wanting to stand up and be counted, to pin their colours to a progressive mast and to counteract this apparent rightwing lurch. Just a quick example because I have it to hand – neveragain.tech.

“We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope!”

There was no reason to believe that any hope would have survived the systematic desecration Trump, BoJo, Farage and their supporters did to ordinary people. And yet I did not have to search at all to hear hope and inspiration pouring from all sides.

In many ways progressive movements are almost in a stronger position now than at the start of the year. In no way am I happy that Trump/Brexit happened – I grieve for the lives already affected by the emboldenment of racists, by those fearing their lives will be uprooted due to national borders, to the set back climate change action is already seeing. But all this is in a context of an existing white supremacist society. #BlackLivesMatter arose in response to racist attacks during the Obama years. The Paris climate accords that Trump is about to rip up were never enough anyway. Inequality, injustice, poverty, oppression, inhumane treatment of refugees – these are rampant and have been for years. Our political and economic systems continue to prove how unsuited they are to providing for safe, meaningful and sustainable lives and communities; given that they were never designed to do this, perhaps not so surprising.

But now, now with the dual shocks of brexit and trump demonstrating that business as usual is not just shit, but full on accelerating full-pelt to hell catastrophic, I see, unexpectedly, candle flames of hope, resistance and solidarity lighting up one after another wherever I look.

***

Hanukkah is also this slow build up. Its not a one day thing – you have to keep lighting night after night for 8 days. And so it is with creating a better world – you start by lighting the one candle, finding that one flame of hope, but you need to keep going; day after day, month after month, year after year, generation after generation we need to keep lighting new candles from the ones already burning.

And just as the Hanukkah story is that a meagre amount of oil lasted far longer than was expected, so too must we sustain and nourish the hope we see around us to last us through the upcoming dark days through to the light ahead.

***

Here is my Hanukkah blessing. I say the usual orthodox blessing in Hebrew, but here is the intention and meaning I imbue it with:

Blessed are you, spirit of resistance, who sanctifies my life by showing me how to make it meaningful, and inspires me to kindle the Chanukah light.

Blessed are you, spirit of resistance, who wrought miracles for those who struggled for a better world, in those days and at this time.

Blessed are you, spirit of resistance, who has kept me and the wider working class alive, sustained our hearts, bodies and minds, and brought us to this season.

And then I take a minute to remember how impossible the odds must have felt for those who struggled before me, and how victory would have seemed to require a miracle at the start, for those fighting colonialisation, slavery, dictatorship, and yet now so much of that is in the past*. One day let future generations say the same about these dark times.

 

* for inspiring stories of how much people have overcome through collective struggle, courage, solidarity and hope try https://www.facebook.com/workingclasshistory/

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Chanukah 3rd night. MSF, sambhavna clinic in Bhopal and veterans for peace

December 9, 2015 1 comment

Today I have felt inspired and hopeful for how they light up the darkness by these three:

MSF movement (because been thinking on them explicitly as I was completing my MSF application form with a long-term MSF volunteer and listening to his stories)

Sambhavna clinic in Bhopal.

Veterans for peace with their brave and long-term commitment to anti militarism, who today staged a protest against war on Syria by some of them returning their war medals outside downing Street.

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Categories: chanukah, judaism

Chanukah second night. Jen Marlowe and Lesvos refugee solidarity

December 7, 2015 2 comments

I decided to celebrate Chanukah by focusing for each candle on something that I find inspiring, hopeful, joyful or otherwise characterised by love, humanity or progress.

Today two things stood out. The beautiful practical solidarity of those in Lesvos featured in Reelnews brand new short film “Stateless on Lesvos” just released today. (And screened together with Q&A with film-maker in Glasgow and Edinburgh next week!)

Jen Marlowe, who is just this most incredible person I feel super honoured to know, wrote about her day of making muppet mini movies and joyfully protesting Eric Garner’s killing. She is a beautiful candle in many darknesses, from fighting capital punishment, to her work in Darfur, Palestine/Israel or in Bahrain. And thinking of her, not just the incredible activism that she does, but her spirit which kinda radiates humanity and power and compassion and humour and love, I always find brightens me up inside.

I’m pretty tired tonight – had a busy few days and then a super early start and 8 hours of travel (I’m now in London for the next few days) – so can’t write as long as yesterday. But even though tired and head fuzzy from lack of sleep I made myself still light the candles and focus on each one as I find that the energy that I intend normally follows the ritual, if not immediately, then as part of a longer process. Its hard to describe, especially as my poor wee tired brain is super struggling for words and vaguely hallucinating just now. But I’ll know what I mean if/when I come back to read this.

But this feels the right way for me to celebrate Chanukah.

 

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Chanukah – first there was one. First evening.

December 7, 2015 1 comment

Happy Chanukah to all who celebrate it.

Not sure if I’ll keep this up all week, as its a bit spontaneous, but just in case I manage, I’ll post my ponderings.

Rarely has light been needed to chase away darkness so much as now. I have felt despair and hopelessness more this year than ever before. Climate change. Racism. New wars and ongoing ones destroying lives and communities. Austerity destroying lives in the UK. Who can imagine what horrors the refugees currently fleeing to Europe must be trying to escape to instead “choose” to pile themselves and families on to unstable boats and then facing grim fortress Europe as winter approaches? And then what “welcome” they get from us, noble and beautiful exceptions apart.

But thanks be to chance and the universe and life force, I have reached again to this holiday. How fitting that it is the festival of oil, when so much of the horror of above, from wars to gain control of oil rich regions, to climate change, to the resources disgusting Daesh have, could be blamed on “black gold”? And yet even the role of oil in humanity’s road is not clear cut – certainly I am glad for the agricultural gains that allowed more to eat, though were it not for the economic and political macrosystems more would have benefitted.

I do feel a bleakness inside me. And yet still I lit tonight that first candle. Why? Why did I choose to do that? Because it feels good and right. Because maybe somewhere deep down, almost smothered by despair, there is a flicker of belief that each night, I will light one more, until my menorah is radiating heat and light. That this is something worthwhile. That even in times of despair, incredible and beautiful things do happen that demonstrate the power and nobility and potential of the life force. Connections, serendipitous happenings, love,  rebellions, resistance, cracks through which a better world can be seen. Are these the first, tentative lighting of candles, which will chase away the darkness? Let us celebrate them! Let us foreground them, proudly displaying them in our windows and hallways! Let us not mourn that they are so singular, but see them as being part of a tradition that has the potential to grow and multiply, steadily, night by night, until the darkness is lit up.

But tonight, there is just one, well, one and the shamash. The helper candle, easy to ignore in pretentious pontifications such as this one, and yet who kindled the rest, and especially tonight, especially when there is just one other candle that it shares the menorah with, is so crucial to the light giving. How easily we overlook those that do not have easily glorified roles. And yet where would our love and light and hope and solidarity be without those who are there first to lay the ground and help light up the rest?

I think if I’d thought this through I’d have kept some of the themes above for later nights, but I’ll trust to tomorrow inspiration for then. For tonight, maybe these thoughts have began to relight some hope and belief in me, though the despair and horror are still so deep.

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Categories: chanukah, diary, judaism, politics Tags: ,