Quite the Festival of Lights, indeed. As the sun set on Friday, we in the Jewish community who had lost power were entering into what some might suggest would be more aptly called a Festival of Darkness. It became a four day long holiday of chilliness; candles being lit not only in windows, as tradition demands, but throughout our eerily darkened homes.
Much has been reported about our area’s dramatic human surrender to nature but I haven’t seen the Jewish-Chanukah angle anywhere. Maybe this is not surprising, what with our city still reeling under the Seatac airport Menorah fiasco.
As we attempted to observe what we like to think of as a minor festival, our holiday food production was stymied and our Sabbath meals almost thwarted. In place of the classic autumnal High Holiday soulful prayer, “who shall live and who shall die” the questions now were more like “who has a gas stove, who cooks with electric?” And then friends’ homes began to open. Everyone was suddenly sleeping and eating everywhere but home, and the warmth of friendship and hospitality replaced the more mundane variety that runs through wires.
But later as we walked home from synagogue Friday evening in the frightening heavy blackness, feeling our way tentatively along the tree limb strewn sidewalks, it didn’t quite feel like the days of miracles, but rather of abandonment and aloneness. Where is the light on this holiday? Cold and dark did not seem to fit with fond cherished memories of Chanukahs past.
There were some on that chilling walk home, brazen enough to point out the irony of trees and lights coming down, while candles in Menorahs burned steadily in the windows of homes that we were passing. Port Authority of Seattle? Perhaps this, the year that Jews were brutally gunned down and one even viciously murdered right in downtown Seattle, perhaps this year was not the best year to ban the placing of the Menorah in the airport. Perhaps, this was the year to acknowledge the Supreme Court decision that the Menorah, not unlike the Christmas Tree, for the purposes of public display, has been determined to be a secular symbol.
After all is said and done we will never know just exactly what went on behind closed doors at those meetings between rabbis and airport officials; but this we do know - that a graceful elegance was absent. Our community would surely have appreciated a nod in our direction. Instead, ugly images and quotes were spread by media. And that very slightly below the surface Mel Gibsonesque anti-Semitism reared its ugly head. Rabbis and Jewish organizations received repulsive hateful e-mails and we were again on alert; not the holiday spirit for anyone.
This is not an easy time of year. There are great expectations for nostalgic celebrations, tensions of tight timelines for holiday preparations; none of us found this storm to be particularly helpful in that regard. It did however teach each of us that light must emerge from inside, warmth comes from friends; that Menorah in the window shining brightly through the storm? It reminds us of a very idealistic struggle for religious freedom and there is nothing more American than that, Happy Chanukah.