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Building Bridges of Light on Chanukah

IJC meets the Neighbours Coalition


On December 9th, record numbers of IJC members and friends assembled in the synagogue to celebrate the third night of Chanukah and welcome the Neighbours Coalition, an interfaith network established as part of the Neighbours Project against antisemitism which is funded by the EU. IJC is participating in this project alongside seven other progressive synagogue communities across Europe. In addition to being a regular celebration of Chanukah with candle lighting, games for the children, and the usual array of unhealthy if delicious foods, this bridgebuilding gathering was intended to connect the IJC community with representatives of the Neighbours Coalition partners and provide the opportunity to express our shared values of inclusion, openness and peace. And it succeeded in it goals.


As part of the evening, three speakers representing the three Abrahamic religions, were invited to give a brief presentation on Light against Hatred.


Even the smallest amount of Light can dispel Darkness

Dr Maryana Hnyp, a native Ukrainian and currently president of the European Network on Religion and Belief (ENROB) was the first to speak:


'I am very happy to be here today and share the joy of Chanukah with you all. Each morning when I open my newspaper, I silently hope for good news. Instead, every day we seem to face more pain, suffering, fear of uncertainty and darkness when it comes to our future. Will people, who now live in warzones, be able to recover from what they have seen, and experienced? Will their homes, as well as their souls be rebuilt, sometimes from ashes? Why all this chaos and destruction? Is there light at the end of all this darkness? Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and couldn’t find the light switch? Stumbling around in the dark is disorienting. Our mind is actively searching for a spark of light to hold on to.


This is exactly how many people feel about their lives now: desperately trying to grasp anything to find their way through this political, economic, financial and often spiritual darkness.   Yet, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness,” says a Chinese proverb (which was once attributed to Ben Franklin). The Christian understanding of light revolves around hope, spiritual resilience, and the ability to express our believes in freedom and with respect to others. This festival of light, in particular, encourages us to reflect on that light, to bring it into our world even if we are facing darkness and adversity, as we see today. Each one of us, through our small or bigger deeds of kindness, visible or invisible, brings light into our families and our neighbourhoods.


And similarly, every effort we make together in our communities for a better living together, no matter how small, can make a significant impact. “You are the light of the world; a city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor do you light a lamp to put it under a candlelight, but on the candlestick, and so it gives light to all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:14-16). As the menorah sheds light today here, it reminds us that even the smallest amount of light can dispel darkness. May we recognize that light in the source of life, cherish it and make it stronger. Let it find its way and shine through every crack of our hearts, turning our vulnerability into strength. May we let that light inside of us turn into action, so we can break the perpetuity of darkness around us, and sometimes heal the dark memory of previous generations. May we be brave enough to share that light with those around us, so together we may strengthen it, make it last longer and find collective resilience in our journey as believers to be carriers of that light, hope, joy, peace, and respect. Chanukah Sameach!



Right to left: Maryana Hnyp (ENORB), Muradiye, Fatih & Yavuz Uğur (Platform B), Rabbi Brian (IJC), An Macharis (Avensa-Citizenne), Pascale Charhon (HIAS), Anne De Potter (Axcent, Logoi, Centre Avec).

Give us today the Strength to give Each Other

After a second round of Chanukah songs our second speaker, nine-year-old Yavuz Uğur stood to read a child’s prayer in Flemish (with simultaneous translation). He joined us with his parents Fatih Uğur, Muradiye Uğur, representing Platform B, a Muslim interfaith organisation based in Limburg. Here is his prayer:


'We thank You, God - Allah,

For Your goodness

You always give us a new chance,

Give us also today the strength to give each other.

New chances when something has gone wrong.

 

You make space for us to live,

For to You, life is sacred.

Teach us to treat the life of others with care.

 

Help us to share our abundance with those who must make do with less,

Help us to prioritize love always and everywhere.

 

Today I also want to thank You

For all the people

Who have ever told me about You.

For without them, I would never have come to know You.

 

I would like in turn

To pass on Your friendship to others

I want to tell them

To tell them the good news,

That You are a God of love and peace.

 

O God - Allah I pray before you,

For this land, where we have all lived together for years,

Together in peace and harmony,

I turn to you, asking that peace and harmony,

That respect for each other will last forever in our land.'

 

Hope is the Light that never Dies.

The third and final presentation was given by IJC’s Alexandra Varese who reflected on the theme from a Jewish perspective:

 

'We all know that Chanukah celebrates miraculous events: the triumph of the few over the many, the small group of the Maccabees against the large and powerful army of the Syrian Greeks. Or the cruse of oil that should only have lasted for one day and instead lasted for eight days. But I have a question: are those the only miracles? I don’t think so. And I don’t want to think so! Yes, the Maccabees won. And yes, by finding the cruse of oil, they restored the Jewish cult inside the Temple. But what pushed them to look for it in the first place? After all, everything around them was upside-down, was desolation, was desecration. What force if not Hope?


Hope, in the Jewish culture, is the Light that never dies. Hope is an act of courage, even in the face of destruction, expulsion, pogroms. We are taught, through our history, to defy adversity and to rebuild our people with what remains. And for me, that is the ultimate message conveyed by the story of Chanukah. This Festival of Lights, is supposed to be a public proclamation of our identity. Texts of our tradition stipulate that we should light our Chanukah candles in public places, outside if possible, or in a window or doorway.


Nevertheless, the right of freely showing our religious belonging is now threatened by the rise of antisemitism, a demon that we thought we had eradicated in our countries. While Talmudists insist that our Chanukah menorahs should be clearly visible to passers-by, an increasable number of our Jewish communities’ members are reluctant to do so. And who could blame them?


Let me ask you, my Christian friends: what if the presence of a nativity scene in your house meant putting your and your children’s life in danger? How would you feel?

Let me ask you, my Muslim friends, what if walking to the mosque for your daughters who choose to wear a hijab or your sons who choose to wear a kufi meant risking violent attack, or even worse? How would you react?


My Muslim friends, please don’t misunderstand me, I know very well that many of you face islamophobia on a daily basis. We all can relate to the consequence of hatred towards Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Intolerance is a virus that changes its form, voice and victims depending on the place and the moment.


Therefore, what if, this year, the meaning of Chanukah for each one of us – with our respective communities, our different cultures and beliefs – was to come together as one, to create a light so strong and so bright that the darkness of intolerance, indifference, and ignorance would have no more place to reign? May the glow of the Chanukah lights illuminate a path for hope, blessings, courage, and joy everywhere. May the radiance of the candles light the way for generosity, patience, compassion, and humility for everyone. May the Chanukah flames serve to inspire us to continue to find ways we can fight antisemitism and every form of hate in our countries, throughout the world.


And finally, ladies and gentlemen, I hope that tonight, on leaving this synagogue I will not feel alone in the dark. And that neither will you.


Chag Chanukah Sameach, lekulam, Happy Festival of Lights, everyone.

Todah! Shukran! Thank you!'

 

 

 


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