[Blog] Weapons of violence and light

Rabbi Sandra Kviat
5 December 2018

Liberal Judaism’s Rabbi Sandra Kviat spoke at the Civil Service Jewish Network (JNet) Chanukah event and candle lighting, held in London last night. In a powerful speech, Sandra offered a different look at the miracle of Chanukah and spoke about how we can use it to inspire us through tough times today. You can read an extract of her words below:

We all know the story…

After the astonishing victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks, the conquering heroes entered the Temple to clean it up and rededicate it, only to find that there was only a little oil left, but then the miracle happened, the oil lasted until a new delivery was ready. And so today we celebrate with donuts, latkes and other oily treats while singing and lighting menorahs.

But there’s another story, one that offers a glimpse of a different view of the miracle.

When the weary, battle-hardened Maccabees finally set foot in the Temple, they found not a jar of oil, but eight iron rods or stakes, eight weapons of war, left behind by the vanquished foe. And what do they do with these useful weapons? Store them in case the enemy return? Throw them out along with the statues of Greek gods? Use them to barter with?

The midrash tells us that they instead turned them into a menorah, setting the stakes in the ground transforming tools of war into sources of light.

We are living in a time where words are being translated into violence on social media, on public platforms and in the general discourse, where words become missiles to cause hurt, confusion or destruction. But also where words motivate individuals to physical violence, where metaphorical bullets become real.

As Jews it has been a hard year, we have been damaged internally and externally by the rows over antisemitism. One consequence we are already seeing is that it feels harder to be Jewish in public, to feel comfortable sharing who we are. And that’s especially hard at Chanukah.

I have parents in my communities contemplating not putting the chanukiah in the windows facing the street because they don’t feel comfortable in today’s climate. Whether they are right or wrong is not the point. The point is that the words of violence are all around us, and they have not been transformed into sources of light.. yet.

The recent anniversary of the Kindertransport was a ray of light in the darkness and it shows us what difference the British community can make when working together with the Jewish communities.

I feel privileged to be standing here with you, the heart of government lighting candles, crossing political, religious and even internal Jewish lines.

And this year, I feel ever more compelled to put my candles in the window and to tell the story of how tools of violence was turned into sources of light.

Rabbi Sandra Kviat is rabbi at Crouch End Chavurah and Shir Hatzafon, and a member of the Liberal Judaism staff team, with responsibility for community partnerships.

JNet is a cross-government network of more than 300 Jewish civil servants and other civil servants interested in Jewish culture. JNet is one of the eight Civil Service diversity networks.

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