By Mary Eshet
The current lunar month, the Jewish month of Kislev, includes Thanksgiving and Chanukah, times to share thanks and light.
At the Greenspon Center, we are grateful for all of our supporters who make our work possible. We are thankful for everyone who participates in our programs, which are designed to advance humanity for all, combat hate, and promote social justice. We are grateful for every single person who stands up in their daily life to speak out against hate and take actions to create a better world. As we all gather with family and friends to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, we will give thanks for each of you and everyone who works tirelessly to bring light into darkness.
Chanukah begins the evening of December 7, the 25th of Kislev, and commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem in the second century BCE. This dedication followed the Maccabees’ successful rebellion against the Seleucid Empire where they were being required to worship Greek gods.
According to the Talmud, a Jewish text, after the Maccabees reclaimed the temple, they only had enough oil supply to keep their menorah lit for one night. Yet, the menorah remained lit for eight nights. A key part of Chanukah is the lighting of the menorah. The menorah has eight candles that are lit, one more each night, from left to right. It also contains a ninth candle that assists to light the other eight. The lighting of the menorah commemorates the miracle of the oil and represents the idea that light will always defeat darkness.
One event that brought light to our world in recent weeks was a conference on antisemitism that was planned and led by our Greenspon Fellows, Queens students Sophie Lange and Chava Rosenberg. In 2023, the Greenspon Center launched the Greenspon Fellows Program. Through this leadership initiative, students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to combat antisemitism and other acts of hate. These students serve as campus leaders, engaging the Queens and broader community in education, action, advocacy and bridgebuilding programs across lines of difference.
Sophie and Chava invested 10 months in researching antisemitism on college campuses – its prevalence, the causes, and the best ways to mitigate it. On November 10, they hosted about 50 students and faculty at Queens University and shared their findings.
Through the course of their presentation, Chava and Sophie defined antisemitism and explained antisemitic tropes. Their research included surveying students from 18 colleges, and responses showed that 60% of the students had experienced or witnessed an antisemitic hate crime. The presentation also included key ways to combat antisemitism: constructing shared identities, intergroup contact, and education were effective strategies shared.
Sophie and Chava also invited two F.B.I. agents to be part of the program to share information about hate crimes and the importance of reporting them. Following the presentations, participants enjoyed a light dinner and conversation about how they can each be an important piece in the puzzle to eliminate antisemitism.
Chava and Sophie emphasized that their research findings go beyond statistics and include the. human element. “Our research is not just about numbers; it’s about humanity,” said Chava.
In faiths throughout the world, there’s power in the metaphor, the imagery, of light. Hindus have their own festival of light, called Diwali. The Buddhist’s day of enlightenment is Bodhi Day, when they string trees with beads and lights, similar to the way Christians light Advent candles and decorate an evergreen. For Chanukah, the menorah is often put on a windowsill, to shine a light through darkness at a time of year when the days grow short.
In a world filled with confusion, anxiety and hatred, Chanukah gives us the gift of light. The Jews did not despair of lighting the menorah the first day, even though they knew there was not enough oil for the remaining days. It did not seem they could possibly fulfill the Torah’s commandment to light a perpetual lamp. And still, they refused to give up hope for tomorrow.
With young leaders like Sophie and Chava, with support from each of you, with our shared commitment to be upstanders not bystanders, we can grow the light and vanquish the darkness, just as the menorah brightens each night with an additional candle, just as the new moon grows larger and brighter each night.