“DON’T LET THE LIGHT GO OUT”

Light One Candle
Peter, Paul and Mary

Light one candle for the Maccabee children
With thanks that their light didn’t die
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand
But light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peacemaker’s time is at hand

Don’t let the light go out!
It’s lasted for so many years!
Don’t let the light go out!
Let it shine through our hope and our tears. (2)

Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe
And light one candle for those who are suffering
Pain we learned so long ago
Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart
And light one candle to find us together
With peace as the song in our hearts

Don’t let the light go out!
It’s lasted for so many years!
Don’t let the light go out!
Let it shine through our hope and our tears. (2)

What is the memory that’s valued so highly
That we keep it alive in that flame?
What’s the commitment to those who have died
That we cry out they’ve not died in vain?
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!

Don’t let the light go out!
Don’t let the light go out!
Don’t let the light go out!

In the Twenty Fifth Chapter of the Gospel of Mathew (Matthew 25: 31-46), our Lord invites us to take a stand for those who are in need—in any way, “just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Most of the time we think of this as an imperative to care for the homeless, the hungry, the weak and vulnerable, the powerless, the oppressed and those who are imprisoned—widows, orphans, and aliens. Clearly, that is literally what Jesus says.

There is another way to read this passage, though. It makes perfect sense for me to read it literally in another sense, whatever we do for—or to—the Jewish family and community of Jesus we do to him!

In recent years, historians have spoken of the two “besetting sins” of the United States: chattel slavery (and the subsequent racism which follows) and the genocide and robbery perpetuated against our indigenous Peoples. It seems to me that the same logic must also be applied to Western Christianity. The besetting sin for us is that of Anti-Semitism.

Years ago, as part of the quest to understand what it meant to be a descendant of a Sephardic Jewish family which had been exiled from Toledo in 1492, I read a powerful and life-changing text: Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages by Mark R. Cohen. This book raised a surprising question, “Why was it that Anti-Semitism took a more violent and confrontational stance in areas controlled by Christians as opposed to those under the control of Muslims?” The book was quick to point out that there had also been incidents and conflict with Muslims, but to a lesser degree. The simple answer to a complex question is that in the West, Jews were the primary minority. They were easy to clearly identify as “other.” And so, the long history of pogrom, Crusade, and expulsion occurred. Whereas in Muslim territories, Jews were only one among many minorities (including various groups of Christians).

Following Vatican Two, at least in the Roman Catholic Church, there was a real desire to implement the important inter-Faith work begun by Nostra Aetate (October 28, 1965) —And yet, it remains a constant struggle! On an official level, horrors like the “blood libel” and charge of “Deicide,” were repudiated. Steps were taken to issue warnings at the beginning of Holy Week that the Passion Narrative must be understood in a clearly defined historical context: “Jew,” or “Jews” are terms which refer to Jewish leaders of first century Jerusalem and not the Jewish people as a whole. The solemn collect for the conversion of the Jews was removed from the Good Friday Liturgy (always the day which Jews in Central Europe feared most because of the frequent, almost annual, pogroms which occurred on that day).

This is a first step in the right direction. But it is only a beginning. It is clear to see the bloody path from pogrom to Crusade  to Expulsion (from almost every single country in Western Europe at one time or another–to extermination camp. All done in the name of God (though usually really done for financial gain)! There is so much for which we Christians must atone. For evil acts which we did, and for righteous acts which we so often failed to do!

As a Christian, one of the greatest and most powerful realities has been my own desire to understand what it meant for Jesus to be Jewish, what it meant for Mary to be Jewish–what it meant for Peter and Paul, and Martha and Mary and Lazarus to be Jewish. That is something which remains to be fully claimed by those in the Jesus Movement.

What would happen if we proclaimed the Jewishness of Jesus in such a powerful way that no one could ever mistake it! What would happen if we expressed our connection to the Tree of Jesse so powerfully that everyone understood our own sense of connectedness and belonging to the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and of King David. What would happen if we proclaimed the conviction that any act of hatred or violence perpetuated against our Sisters and Brothers of the Jewish faith, was also perpetuated against Yeshua ha Mashiach! If we truly proclaim Jesus to be “Messiah” (Christos) and “Lord” (Kurios), then we can never ignore or permit evil against his—and our—Jewish Sisters and Brothers.

What has been exceptionally troubling in recent years, has been the escalation of violence. When marchers at Charlottesville chanted anti-Jewish slogans, and when attacks at synagogues—and other “safe spaces” for the Jewish community—occurred over seas and at home, many of us hoped and prayed that the very worst had happened. The horrible attacks and vandalism in NYC and in Jersey City made it abundantly clear that was only wishful thinking. The recent attack at the home of a Rabbi in Rockland County, in “upstate” New York, in which a family gathered to celebrate the Festival of Hanukah-a festival which the Gospel of John reminds us that Our Lord celebrated in Jerusalem with his own family and friends (John 10: 22-30), has taken things to an unprecedented and unimagined level
.
The time has come for every person of faith to take a stand! It is time for us to stand in unity and solidarity with our Jewish Sisters and Brothers in a clear and ambiguous way. United with them, we will refuse to “let the light go out,” as the beautiful Hanukah song, Light One Candle, reminds us. Whatever is done to them, is done to us as well—because they are an essential part of our own beloved family.

Chanukah Menorah in Easton on Christmas Eve 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Chanukah Menorah (Hanukiyot) was photographed
at the Circle in Easton, Pennsylvania
on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2019
–the Third Night of Chanukah.

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