In 2013, Chanukah and Thanksgiving coincide for the first time in 95 years; we will light the second candle on this Jewish holiday of thanks and praise for miracles over tables at which we Americans will express gratitude for abundance.
The High Holidays deliver a lesson in teshuvah; Chanukah’s lesson is one of thankfulness. These past few months I have been keenly aware of gratitude.
In August, I participated in an American Jewish World Service rabbinic delegation to Ghana in which we were exposed directly to global poverty and child slavery. We met a hero named James Kofi Annan, a former child slave, who created an organization called Challenging Heights that educates at-risk children and their families to prevent trafficking and literally liberates and rehabilitates enslaved children. I am grateful that there are more than 400 NGOs around the world that AJWS supports dedicated to human rights and eradicating poverty.
As Election Day approached, I appreciated how allies of the LGBTQ population joined with LGBTQ people and advocated for religious freedom and civil equality. I was inspired by a group of local Orthodox rabbis striving to create welcoming communities who published a letter in the JT reminding us that there are Orthodox communities where you can be openly gay. Meanwhile, a new initiative called JQ Baltimore envisions Baltimore as a welcoming and inclusive Jewish Community.
While I feel inspired by University of Maryland, Baltimore County students every day, I want to highlight a Jewish-Muslim dialogue initiative that has taken shape this fall. Seeds of this alliance began with our assistant director, Cara Behneman, and some interested students, and it has grown into a project that has planned campuswide programs in sync with UMBC’s commitments not only to academic excellence and diversity, but also to a culture of kindness. It’s not everywhere that American, Ukrainian and Israeli-born Jewish students have Shabbat dinner with American, Pakistani and Saudi-born Muslim students, but it happens every week at UMBC. There is great promise in the relationships these students are forming.
Finally, I have felt grateful to Rabbis Jessy Gross, Daniel Cotzin Burg and Etan Mintz. The four of us —Baltimore City residents, each with a different Jewish movement affiliation yet a three-dimensional person beyond those identities — have started talking together about strengthening Jewish life in the City. You may hear more about our collective ideas in the near future, and we hope to hear yours, too.
Chanukah and Thanksgiving may not often align, but we can form alliances that help bring about a more perfect world. For that I will be grateful today, in 2013 and always.