Chanukah, a Celebration of Light, Chutzpah, and Miracles

Meg Olson
December 16, 2020

December 10 marked the first night of Chanukah, the 8-day Festival of Lights when Jewish people celebrate and commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century BC. Greek-Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes had abolished Judaism and desecrated the first Temple by renaming it for the Greek god Zeus. In response to this oppression, Judah and the Maccabees rose up and defeated the Syrian army, which restored not only the practice of Judaism, but also the Jewish people’s political autonomy and self-determination.

When the Maccabees entered the Temple to restore and purify it, their first task was to relight the ner tamid, the light that hangs in every synagogue to symbolize God’s omnipresence. However, they only had one jar of oil, which would only be enough for one day’s worth of light. Knowing that it would take eight days to obtain more oil, the Maccabees relit the ner tamid anyway, and it miraculously lasted for eight days.

Rabbi Susan Talve, the founding rabbi of Central Reformed Congregation in St. Louis, MO, has said that the real miracle of Chanukah isn’t that the one jar of oil lasted for eight days, but it was that the Jews had the chutzpah to light the ner temid at all, knowing that they didn’t have enough oil.

What I love about Rabbi Talve’s interpretation of the Chanukah story is that it emphasizes the miracle of people, rooted in faith, who took things into their own hands. Chutzpah is a wonderful Yiddish word that means “audacity.” When I think about the 2020 Election and NETWORK’s role in it, I think, “Wow, that took a lot of chutzpah!” Our staff and board had a lot of chutzpah to declare that Catholics can’t vote for Trump. It took quite a bit of chutzpah for us to hit the virtual highway with a month-long Nuns on the Bus tour. Our members and supporters had the chutzpah to share our Equally Sacred Scorecard with their bishops, pastors, and friends and to declare, “Yes, Catholics are multi-issue voters!” Beyond NETWORK’s own efforts, I’m grateful for the activists, poll workers, and election auditors’ chutzpah to ensure that our nation had a safe and fair election. Isn’t it a miracle that in a pandemic we had a record-turnout of voters? Isn’t it a miracle that we saved our democracy?

Now, as we wait for the inauguration of the Biden-Harris administration, we must refocus our efforts on ensuring that Congress passes a COVID relief bill that truly provides care for those who need it most. So much of our nation is hurting and broken right now. Those who have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced due to the pandemic are standing in line for hours for food donations and are on the brink of eviction. A COVID relief package must include cash assistance and paid sick days and medical leave if it is truly going to make a difference for individuals and families in crisis, especially for Black, Brown, Indigenous, and immigrant communities.

And so, in this time where we are mourning the deaths of nearly 300,000 Americans, working on the Georgia Senate Run-off, still seeing the Trump administration attempt to undo the Election, and figuring out how to celebrate the holidays safely with our loved ones, we must also have the chutzpah to tell our legislators, “No, the current bills are not enough. We need more!”

I know we can do it. To quote Peter Yarrow’s beautiful Chanukah song, “Light One Candle,”

We have come this far always believing
That justice would somehow prevail
This is the burden, this is the promise
This is why we will not fail!

We can be the miracle, the light in the darkness.