Saturday, December 16, 2017

Hanukkah message is religious freedom, tolerance


Hanukkah presents “a wonderful opportunity for our kids to participate in services,” Rabbi Weinstein said, “and our fourth grade every year does a special Hanukkah presentation, and then we follow it, of course, with a big, festive dinner replete with potato pancakes. Why potato pancakes? The oil represents the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days” to light a menorah in Jerusalem's Temple, according to the story in the Book of Maccabees depicting a fight for Jews to regain the Temple.

It celebrates a miracle, but “I see Hanukkah as a minor holiday in terms of ritual, because essentially we’re simply lighting the candelabra," Rabbi Weinstein said. “But I see it as a major holiday in terms of its implications. I think Hanukkah really, if you look at it historically, was based on one of the first wars fought for religious independence. People often think about political boundaries, but Hanukkah is also about religious boundaries, and it's about respecting religious boundaries. There’s a tremendous and very potent message there that speaks about tolerance, and it speaks about mutual understanding, and I think sometimes in the midst of the lighting of the large menorahs and playing with dreidels and having potato latkes [pancakes], that message is really missed.”


In speaking of change, Rabbi Weinstein referred to Israel. “I think that in many respects when you look at Israel and, of course, what they have to balance, security needs, etc. I think Israel has done a very good job of trying to accommodate everybody. If you go to Haifa, you see the Baha'i faith has its headquarters in Israel. You walk through the Old City of Jerusalem, you see [Christian] Orthodox priests dressed in their garb, and that's fully accepted and welcomed. I know that it's not always been the case on the other side. Israel is always called apartheid, for example. What sort of apartheid? You have Arabs and Jews living in the same places, going to university together, patients in the hospital together. There's Arab doctors, there's Jewish doctors. Israel is not apartheid. I think a lot of the dialogue has really been corrupted, and as long as the dialogue is corrupted, it makes it very difficult for anybody to see the complexity of the situation and certain essential truths. So much of this has been politicized, and tragically, because it doesn't allow us to really get to the core of the matter in terms of trying to solve any problems. People are coming in with their own preconceived notions about truth, and what we sometimes see as truth is not truth at all.”

That ties back to Hanukkah. “Hanukkah is about tolerance,” the rabbi said. “It’s about respect. It’s about appreciating uniqueness. I think there's an eternal lesson there, that we have to fight for our freedoms, we have to respect others, it’s all implicit and explicit in the holiday of Hanukkah.”


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Immigrant or Refugee?

Recently, I heard a sermon where the pastor contrasted “immigrant” and “refugee”.  The former leaves his or her home country to voluntarily move to a new land.  A refugee, on the other hand, is forced to leave his or her homeland due to war, political oppression or other danger.  The difference is highlighted in this comparative definition:

An Immigrant is an individual who leaves one’s country to settle in another, whereas refugees are defined as persons, who move out of one’s country due to restriction or danger to their lives.

Immigration is considered a natural phenomenon in population ecology, whereas the refugee movement occurs only under some kind of coercion or pressure.[1]

The pastor commented that the families of most of the members of the congregation came to America as immigrants.  It struck me that, at least on my father’s side, my family came as refugees.  My great-great grandparents left Ireland in the second or third year of the potato famine 1845-1849), which resulted in Ireland’s population going from almost 8.4 million before the famine to 6.6 million by 1851.[2]  About one million Irishmen, women and children died from starvation, typhus or other famine-related diseases.

John McCarthy and Mary Ward were among the nearly one million Irish refugees to land on American soil.[3]  John and Mary were relatively lucky – they were able to purchase a land patent and 160 acres in the Minnesota River Valley and become relatively successful farmers.  Many emigrants from Ireland were not so fortunate.

When my brother and I visited Ireland in the 1980’s, we stopped by the Dan O’Hara tenant house in Connemara and there read the tragic story.  Dan, his wife and seven children lived on eight acres, most of which was planted in potatoes.  He did all right and was able to put glass panes in the windows of his home, which resulted in the landlord raising the rent to such an extent it could not be paid, and Dan’s family was evicted.  His wife and three of his children died on the ship to New York.  There, instead of mountains and lakes, Dan could see only the wall of the adjacent tenement.  He died penniless and broken.[4]

I have included in this blog before commentary that Jesus was a refugee.[5]  In addition to thoughts and prayers for the modern refugees this holy season, let us each pledge to take such action as we can to ensure their suffering is eased.

It’s what He would want us to do in His name.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


This evening marks the beginning of Hanukah, or the Jewish Festival of Lights.  This event commemorates the victory of Judah Maccabee over the Greeks, and the rededication of the Temple.  When the menorah (a lamp of eight wicks) was lit, there was only enough oil for one day.  It would take eight days to prepare a suitable supply of oil for the lamp, according to Jewish tradition.

Miraculously, the menorah remained lit for eight days, until the new supply was prepared.[1]

So, why write about Hanukah in a blog about tolerance?  Well, the Jewish people have been among the most persecuted and maligned religions.  From the Seleucids in about 167 BCE to the Christian persecutions, to Muslim persecutions and to the Holocaust, the Jewish race has been subjected to intolerance and violence.[2]

“We must listen carefully to what the candles are saying,” says the Previous Rebbe.[3]  Some of the messages:

1.    Never be afraid to stand up for what is right.
2.    Always increase in matters of goodness.  (Just as one light is added each night of the Hanukah, we should seek to increase our goodness.)
3.    A little light goes a long way.
4.    Take it to the streets.  “Shine outwards into our surroundings.”
5.    Don’t be ashamed to perform mitzvahs (good deeds). 

Those are five messages that anyone can use to promote tolerance!

Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary, wrote a lovely song for Hanukah, “Light One Candle.”

Light one candle for the Maccabee children
With thanks that their light didn't die
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand
But light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peacemaker's time is at hand

It is a song of remembering and vowing to keep on striving for Justice.

What is the memory that's valued so highly
That we keep it alive in that flame?
What's the commitment to those who have died
That we cry out they've not died in vain?
We have come this far always believing
That justice would somehow prevail
This is the burden, this is the promise
This is why we will not fail![4]

Don’t let the light go out.  Let it shine through our hopes and our tears.

Stand up for what is right!  Light your candle!  Perform mitzvahs! 

And, be at Peace. 

[1] For a more complete article about Hanukah, its origins and traditions, see
[2] See for a brief history of Jewish persecution. 
[3] See footnote 1.
[4] For the full lyrics, see   To hear PP&M perform this beautiful song, see