The people of Gaza have been suffering under the Israeli-enforced military blockade for over a decade now. To make matters worse, Israeli-imposed power shortages have meant that Gazans now only have an average of 4 hours of power per day.
To help with this, I have prepared a guide to organizing such a gathering, complete with a resource on the changing meanings assigned to Hanukkah with a special focus on how it has been used for the past 100 year by Zionist ideology and how it is changing away from that in some circles.
See below Light Up the Dark in Gaza: IJV Hanukkah Party Ideas
You can print or save a pdf copy of this by clicking on the green “Print PDF” icon below this article. Feel free to share it. If you want to talk over putting on your own party, send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or just call me at (604) 781-7839.
Light Up the Dark in Gaza:
IJV Hanukkah Party Ideas
Rabbi David Mivasair, IJV
Hanukkah is understood by many to celebrate light coming into darkness and the ever-present potential for liberation from oppression. With a little ingenuity and energy, IJV chapters, individual members, friends, and allies can create a Hanukkah event this year to share that understanding and apply it to the current situation in Israel and Palestine.
Think about holding a party. It can be for any number of people, in any kind of venue, just the way you’d like to do it. Here are some ideas for Hanukkah parties. Please adapt them to your own situation. If you want to talk it over, send me an email email@example.com.
- Bring members and friends together for an enjoyable social time with a clear political purpose.
- Create an event that people who are not yet involved will like to come to.
- Embed our political work in authentic Jewish roots and teachings.
- Celebrate our authentic Jewish history and culture in a politically true way.
Light the menorah with the right number of candles for the night that you’re doing it on. Dedicate each candle out loud to an aspect of liberation of Palestine and Israel from the viciously oppressive situation they are in.
Sing Hanukkah songs, especially some which are liberation-oriented. It would be best to have live musicians to accompany some of the singing and perhaps to simply play some music for atmosphere and entertainment. One song I like is Light One Candle by Peter Yarrow. If you know others that are liberation-oriented, please share them.
Talk about the history of the changing meanings assigned to Hanukkah with a special focus on how it has been used during the past 100 years by Zionist ideology and how it is changing away from that in some circles. See my summary of this interesting history in the appendix below. You can share it with and/or read it together with folks at your party.
Have some traditional foods: latkes (potato pancakes) with toppings, sufganiyot (sugar donuts). Also have a variety of drinks and even some reasonably healthy food like fruit.
Fundraise to send light into the darkness of Gaza
Use this as an opportunity to do something real that will make a concrete difference. I suggest raising funds for a project that purchases very useful small solar-powered lights for households in Gaza. More info here. Consider setting a provisional goal of raising a specific realistic amount. Consider charging a certain amount for admission to the party or ask for a specific donation, to be determined by the projected costs and attendance. And, ask every person who can to donate at least $18 to send light to the darkness of Gaza – more if they can. This can be put on social media and people can be asked to donate to send light to Gaza even if they’re not coming to the event. This money will do something concrete that will help some Palestinian families.
Figure out what it will cost and where the money will come from. Possibly a donor would cover some of the expense or some of it can come out of a chapter’s funds. Anticipate the cost of the venue or get a space for free in someone’s home. Add the cost of food or possibly do it potluck. Divide by the number of people anticipated and ask for a donation at the door. If more people come, it might raise a few bucks. If fewer come, be prepared to cover the shortfall.
The most obvious date is the Saturday night during Hanukkah, which will be December 16. Any other date can work. Hanukkah begins on Tuesday, December 12, and the last night is Tuesday, December 19.
You know what works in your community. It could be a home or a public space in a dorm or apartment house or in a Jewish-identified space like a JCC.
Use mailing lists and social media. Get it listed in free online and in-print community events calendars.
Be creative. What works for you? I suggest “Hanukkah Party for the Liberation of Palestine and Israel” or “Light Up the Dark in Gaza: IJV Hanukkah Party”.
Jewish Voice for Peace 5776 Chanukah Ritual Companion (Includes blessings—with transliterations—and songs.
The Changing Meaning of Hanukkah
The original events of Hanukkah actually were a Jewish civil war between hyper-nationalist extremist religious terrorists (the Maccabees) on one side and other Jews on the other side who were happy to participate in, benefit from and contribute to the wider cosmopolitan world of the Hellenistic empire of their time. According to the Book of Maccabees, the first act committed by the Maccabees, which launched their revolt, was to publicly execute a respected Jewish elder who ate pork. That’s an example of their extremism and use of violence to force other Jews to adhere to their own particular interpretation of Judaism. Their military victory over the Greek armies came when the armies were withdrawn to fight a bigger battle with a real challenger to the Greek empire, the Persians. Within one generation of the Maccabees’ military victory, the cosmopolitan cultural practices they sought to expel became thoroughly dominant. Their own sons, who were the next generation in their dynasty, had Greek names such as Hyrcanus, Aristobulus and Yannaeus. Through military victory the Maccabees gained power, but could not stop the cultural and social developments that they opposed.
Centuries afterward, the rabbis hid the true history and interpreted it instead into a story of a divine miraculous salvation — “not by power, not by might but by My spirit, saith the Lord”. The true history is known from the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus, who lived centuries later, and the Book of Maccabees, which was completely suppressed and lost to Jewish culture but is known to us ironically because it was preserved in the Christian Scriptures. The Roman Catholic Church canonized the Maccabees as saints because they saved the Jews from annihilation which led to Jesus being born about 160 years later. The story of the miraculous olive oil in the menorah comes to us from the Talmud, written centuries after the historical events.
Centuries later, in Medieval Europe, Hanukkah took on being seen as the prime example of Jewish martyrdom with the famous story of Hannah and her seven sons throwing themselves off a roof rather than submitting to the evil heathen conquerors who demanded they eat pork. The English word “macabre” is derived from this sense of Hanukkah that arose when Jews in Europe were indeed being martyred by Crusaders and others.
Closer to our own times, the meaning of Hanukkah was reinterpreted and flipped once again. Rather than the remembrance of Jewish martyrdom, it was used to call for the re-embodiment of Jewish physicality. The early Zionist movement reframed it to inspire Jews to “arise, unite and be redeemed”. Hanukkah was cast as Jews fighting and winning the power to govern themselves in their own land. Ironically, while the original Maccabees fought to expel the Hellenistic culture characterized by the gymnasium and bodily athletics, the early 20th century movement to re-embody Jews in physical culture and athleticism was named the “Maccabiah” to recall the glory of their physical valour. Hanukkah was used to inspire Jews to reclaim Palestine under Jewish sovereignty.
In my American childhood of the 1950’s and ’60’s, Hanukkah became a thoroughly American festival of religious freedom. The Maccabees lined up perfectly with the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock seeking religious freedom and with George Washington who fought for it. It also became the Jewish equivalent of Christmas, with lavish displays, emphasis on holiday foods and songs and gift-giving. Celebrating the religious freedom to not celebrate Christmas but instead to celebrate its Jewish equivalent became the demonstration par excellence of Jewish belonging in America.
Then, as we grew up and engaged in resisting the Vietnam War, we saw the Hanukkah story as the model for a small, nimble and dedicated guerrilla army liberating its oppressed people from Empire. The Maccabees were the original Viet Cong. At the same time, all around us in the USA, the struggle of African-Americans for their own cultural, civil and human rights resonated with Hanukkah’s celebration of Jewish distinctiveness within the wider American society.
Later, as we focused more on what we like to call spirituality, we saw that Hanukkah comes to the Northern Hemisphere in the deepest, darkest time of year and teaches that light returns to fill the darkness. We took from Kabbalah and Hasidic lore that the hidden holy sparks are waiting even in the darkest of dark times to be re-kindled again.
Now, in our time, our IJV and allied communities can see in Hanukkah a call to stand with those who are oppressed in our own time and by our own people. Hanukkah is a call to act concretely in solidarity with their struggle to win freedom, justice and equality. In doing so, we will move our own people toward real freedom as well. While we renew our commitment to the ongoing struggle for the liberation of both Palestinians and Israeli Jews from the narrative that holds them all in its dark and disastrous grip, we can at the same time take immediate steps to bring light to the darkness and help purchase solar lamps for families in Gaza who live in the literal dark.
Rabbi David Mivasair