The current lunar month is chock full of significant events – in fact, so full that many of us find ourselves frantically stressed over the abundant traditions, events, demands, and the need to make everything perfect and special.
This Jewish month of Tevet includes the last days of Chanukah – when all eight candles and the shamash are lit and the world is just a little brighter. It includes Christmas, another holiday that brings light into darkness, a holy time for Christians. Kwanzaa falls in Tevet, another holiday that brings light into this time of the winter solstice. Also in Tevet is the secular New Year, when the world turns its calendars to 2024, as New Year celebrations light up around the world.
The diversity of traditions and culture make our world rich and interesting. The common theme of light in the darkest time of the year calls us to remember the unifying force of humanity.
Tevet brings a special demonstration of bringing light into the darkness. On the nights when the sky is at its darkest with little to no moon, nature treats us to the Germinid meteor shower, when as many as 120 meteors per hour can be seen. This fantastic show, a bold statement from the universe, occurs on the first and second of Tevet, Dec. 13 and 14.
The word Tevet is thought to have come from the time when Jews were in exile in Babylonia. It is believed to mean “sinking” or “immersing.” This is possibly related to the fact that the heavy winter rainfall turns much of the Middle East into a muddy swamp at this time of year. While “sinking” and “immersing” can be synonyms in one sense, they also have important distinctions in connotation. A definition of sinking is “To go to the bottom. To fall or drop to a lower place or level.” Immersing is defined as “to plunge into something that surrounds or covers; to involve oneself deeply in a particular activity or interest.”
There are days when we feel like we are sinking, when hate and injustice seem ubiquitous. Days when we feel we have dropped to the bottom and it’s a challenge to see the light. At the Greenspon Center, we find that the other meaning of Tevet, immersing, is a good way to counter that sinking feeling. We immerse ourselves in the work to combat hate, to educate, and to increase social justice.
From our Kristallnacht event, to our professional development day for educators to learn about combating antisemitism, to our Tree of Life Chanukah menorah on Queens’ campus, to our upcoming Spring Jewish Studies course titled “Paths to Peace: Speaking to the Religious Other” – we are immersing ourselves.
On the tenth day of Tevet (Dec. 22 in 2023), Jewish people mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the result of the siege which began on that day. The sages instituted a fast to observe this tragedy. The fast is meant to be a time to question whether we should ride through history as passive travelers looking out the window as we are driven to parts unknown, or whether we should do something to determine which way we are headed. In other words, it is a time to consider if we should be bystanders or upstanders.
At the Greenspon Center, we strive every day to be upstanders, and are grateful to work with so many supporters who are also upstanders. While our work is never done, we pause for a moment as 2023 draws to an end to recognize the successes we have had, with your help. Together, we have accomplished a great deal, as highlighted in our impact report, found here, and we thank you for making it all possible.
May this season bring us peace and joy, and may we remember amidst all the busyness that what really matters are the human connections that are the light in our life, the meteors in our dark sky.