Each night of Hanukkah, I proudly light a Hanukkiah (aka menorah) on my front porch in an improvised “aquarium menorah,” a glass aquarium with a lid, that prevents the candles from blowing out in the wind. I learned this strategy in Jerusalem, where Jewish residents install Hanukkiahs built into special glass and metal boxes, some gloriously ornate, on the exterior walls of their houses. For me, Hanukkah candles are a triumphant manifestation of hope and love, a visual reminder of Divine beneficence. I am always grateful for the magic of Hanukkah light.
Last year at this time, Missoulians gathered at Har Shalom to express solidarity, countering the malicious sentiments of anti-Semitic leaflets that appeared around town for five weeks. Our public officials joined the rally-like news conference. The Missoulian printed a striking, single-page pullout of a menorah superimposed on a silhouette of Montana, and the Missoula Ministerial Association — a group of local Christian, Jewish and Buddhist clergy and spiritual leaders — announced a campaign to display the menorah in Missoula homes and businesses.
Missoula’s Jewish community deeply appreciated the outpouring of support, and it strengthened bonds among Missoula’s communities of faith and practice. For example, the Missoula Deanery, led by Father Ed Hislop of Blessed Trinity Catholic Community, published a Christmas Day message in the Missoulian, saying, “The Catholic pastors, priests, deacons, sister, pastoral administrators and parish staffs of the Missoula Deanery stand with out Jewish neighbors and friends in solidarity, support, mutual caring, faith, and hope. We choose, with them, not to be silent but to be the Word of God echoing in the night, as a promise of light, liberation, and mutual respect.”
Where are we now, one year later? What are the challenges to our spirit? And as my wise spiritual director, Rabbi Sarah Cohen, regularly asks me, “Where is God in this?”
The past year brought us vicious anti-Semitic trolling in Whitefish, the Charlottesville White Nationalist rally that resulted in death, violence and virulent expression of racist and anti-Semitic sentiment, and as reported by the FBI, a sharp rise in acts of violence on the basis of race and religion. Last fall and early winter, when I reacted to the rise of neo-Nazi ideology and white nationalism, I realized I could not wake up every day being angry; it was toxic to my spirit. Instead, I realized that I could be thankful each day to rise and be ready to do the work of bringing peace, respect, love into the world, focusing on the path forward.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “There are moments when we all stand together and see our faces in the mirror: the anguish of humanity and its helplessness; the perplexity of the individual and the need of divine guidance, being called to praise and to do what is required.”
In this moment, we are called to divine service. It is up to each one of us to respond to this call. As my teacher, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, said, “God is always present. The question is, ‘How present are we?’ ”