8 Songs for Chanukkah: 1. Scarlet Begonias

(Disclaimer: I haven't blogged a lot lately. To be completely transparent, taking on the role of the Religious School Director at my synagogue has made me overthink my posts, and there are many many drafts which I just haven't had the courage to publish. So let me say at the outset, any opinion expressed on Western Jew is mine, mine alone, and it not endorsed, approved, proofread, or in any other way associated officially with the Congregation Har Shalom Religious School. It's all me.)

8 Songs for Chanukkah: 1. Scarlet Begonias by The Grateful Dead.

Tonight is the first night of Chanukkah, the Jewish holiday which commemorates the victory of the Maccabean warriors over an anti-Jewish king (Antiochus) and his army, who had desecrated the holy temple in Jerusalem in 167 BCE and did their best to force Jews to give up practicing Judaism. Antiochus made it illegal to observe Shabbat, study Torah, or even celebrate the new moon, which is how the Jews scheduled holy days.


It was a dark, dark time, but the Maccabees took up the fight, eventually defeating their oppressors and rededicating the Temple. As part of that dedication (the literal meaning of the word Chanukah) the menorah in the temple was re-lit, and just a little bit of oil miraculously lasted for 8 days. Imagine your nearly-dead phone battery lasting an entire day without a recharge!



Not a chill to the winter, but a nip to the air.

It's remarkable warm this winter in Colorado. But the early setting of the sun has not been delayed along with the cold temperature. These are dark, dark times. Darkness is one of those things you can only appreciate by knowing its opposite. Many of us felt a sense of lightness about America from 2008-2016.

  • Gay marriage legalized nationwide. 
  • The Affordable Care Act, if not perfect, acknowledged the health care gap in America. 
  • A bi-racial @POTUS. 
  • Three women on the Supreme Court. 
  • Intentional diversity in The Cabinet and among presidential appointees.
  • Increased visibility and acceptance of LGBTQ people. 
  • Justin Trudeau. 
  • Always Justin Trudeau.


That hopey-changey thing was actually working pretty well for me.

These past 12-and-a-half months have been like a never-ending descent into a bizarro America, where the light has not only faded, it has been purposely snuffed out, with glee and a sneer.

People in my community have been digging deep for ways to fight back against the wave of darkness. We snark on Facebook, we donate to every organization we can who is fighting the good fight, we stand on street corners, we text and email our representatives, and we vote in every election every time.

It's exhausting. And honestly, it doesn't feel like we're getting anywhere. It is literally and figuratively getting darker and and darker earlier and earlier every day.

It could be an illusion, but I might as well try, might as well try.

Chanukkah makes us do what perhaps we should be doing anyway -- seek the light. Tonight, the light is pretty small. We light just one candle, and if you haven't seen them, Chanukkah candles are pretty small as far as candles go. They stay lit for about 45 minutes or so, less if the wick is wonky. It's a short respite from darkness, but we should not discount it just because it's quick.

We can perhaps be accused of creating a temporary illusion of light on Chanukkah. But I fully support our absolute right to refuse to engage in the darkness for as long as the flame can hold out. I do it by shutting off the news, changing to my "cute animals only" Twitter feed, reading romance novels, going to see live music, and watching kind and gentle TV like the Great British Baking Show, where even the fiercest competitors are supportive of one another and every episode ends in a group hug. Lighting the menorah certainly fits into that category.

Seldom turns out the way it does in a song.

I wouldn't normally light any candles on a Tuesday night, and certainly not for 8 nights in a row. What an amazing power we have, to strike a match or push a button and create what Torah tells us God created with just words: Vayehi Or.

Let there be Light.

In the story of creation, darkness does not disappear when light is created. Instead, the light is separated from the dark, but they turn over and over and switch places in a never ending cycle, night becoming day and day becoming night. Darkness will always be there, but...


Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.


Chanukkah is a strange little Jewish holiday. It's not mentioned in the Torah, or the Writings (Ketuvim), or the Prophets (Nevi'im). It's message of religious freedom, bringing light to darkness, and shining a light into the world is ancient, and timeless. Hag Sameach friends.

Watch this space tomorrow for Song #2.







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