Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Eight Reflections: Hanukkah 2018

Night 1:

To all my fellow rebel jews, though the space may be far between us geographically at this moment, sending out especial love and light on this first night of Hanukkah. Next year in freedom, for all people, everywhere. May all of us lighting the flames of liberatory aspirations over eight consecutive evenings help to collectively illuminate the path.

#FreedomToMove #FreedomToStay #FreedomToReturn #FreedomForAll

(photo: my candles burning bright like my heart)

Night 2:

Night two of Hanukkah, and for all my fellow transgressive-queer rebel Jews out there, here’s a little gift. Spin your dreidel and listen to the October 31, 2018 interview on the Hotwire podcast, episode 43, for insightful and poignant words from my dear friend Ami, who works at the Tree of Life Synagogue when not doing all sorts of anarchistic organizing and feministic care projects.

As Ami summed up the feeling in Pittsburgh after the anti-Semitic and white supremacist murders, “I’m speaking to you pretty normally now, but this is a deeply mourningful time, and the city of Pittsburgh is grieving, just for people to remember that, and remember that there is a political element to this, and there’s also deep pain and sorrow that’s happening, and just keep us in your thoughts and actions and care work. I’m seeing our process of grieving beginning, and all of that feels like the outpouring of the anarchist tendencies that already exist within Jewish culture and beliefs.”

(photo: my menorah, in anticipation of the coming light)

#AntiSemitismKills #MayTheirMemoryBeABlessing #HateFascismLoveYourFriends #WeMustCareForEachOther #TryAnarchismForLife  #LoveAndRage #LoveAndLight

Night 3:

Someone took issue, playfully, with me focusing on Hanukkah. But who doesn’t need increasing light each increasingly dark night at this time of year, especially with the storm clouds of fascism and climate catastrophe rolling in fast and furiously? Besides, one could argue that it’s debatable if I’m a proper Jew, so I’m for sure DIYing my own rituals.

As such, my fellow rebel Jews, on night three I’m letting my online dreidel gift you not only ever-brighter light and love but also two folks, Sam Bick and David Zinman, who do one (hell of a) podcast, TREYF — fittingly, “a debatably Jewish podcast.” They cover political topics that are often taboo in North American Jewish communities. Meaning, this is one rad and troublemaking series!

You can find it at https://treyfpodcast.wordpress.com/.

And if you feel so inclined, tossing a little gelt their way — chocolate coins or especially metal ones — will help sustain the smart reflections you’ll discover on Treyf.

(photo: my menorah’s glowing flames of resistance and resilience)


Night 4:

This week finds me obsessed, in a good way, with my next curated anthology, placeholder titled “Deciding for Ourselves” (AK Press). In chatting with potential contributors about pieces on the messy-beautiful process of self-governance, in living action in the here and now of various neighborhoods, cities, and rural communities, I’m reminded of two “things”: the best things in life are not things at all but rather the do-it-ourselves social fabrics/relations we cultivate when we create and hold brave spaces of our own shaping; and such spaces are always, and always must be, a work-in-process, a dynamic experiment, a journey toward a dream-horizon we keep in sight yet never fully reach. Because how could we? That would be closing a door on possibilities.

Or maybe this is what my menorah is reminding me of on night 4 of Hanukkah. It’s been in my bio-family as long as I can recall, and is the one thing I wanted, and haven’t wanted to part with. I’ve no idea of its origins, but it’s two doors on the base have never, ever stayed closed. They seem to reflect my dad’s favorite advice: “Keep your options open.”

This menorah went along with a dreidel game that my mom made up, I think. She’d write “clue” notes on tiny slips of paper, put the first clue in a cheap-plastic hollow dreidel, which we’d spin, open, and grab one note from. That note led to a hiding place for another note, and another, and another, and … Mind you, she did this for 4 kids for 8 nights. A small gift was in the last hiding spot nightly. I’ve zero memory of any of these gifts. All I remember is the playful fun of the process, the journey, and the messy-beautifulness of it, because half the time one found dust bunnies or cobwebs along with a note. The game mirrored my dad’s other favorite saying: “We’re getting there.” He never said, “We’re there,” likely because my bio-family had an exceedingly difficult time going from point A to point B in any of our many adventures; point A got forgotten if we saw a point Q or point G or point X that lured us to explore.

I light this menorah tonight as if to say, All we have is the journey called life. Let’s “travel” well, caring for each other.

#ToLife #TryAnarchismForLife

Night 5:

Mourning has been on my mind since I woke this morning and looked out the window at bare branches shattering a winter-gray sky into pieces. Every day’s calendar could be filled with remembrances of anniversaries of loss, especially unnecessary ones. Ones like, on this December 6, the 10-year marker of when 15-year-old anarchist Alexis Grigoropoulos was murdered by a cop in Athens, or the murders 29 years ago today of 14 females at Montreal’s École Polytechnique by a man proclaiming “I hate feminists!”

No doubt there are plenty of other bodies lost unnecessarily over the years/decades/centuries on this date who are not able to be mourned because the systemic violences that killed them had already determined they were disposable, less than or not human, ungrievable. Remembrance is defiance — defiance of these deadly logics, whether police states or patriarchy — especially when it’s collective. People in Greece rose up for 42 days after losing what felt like one of their own children, Alexis, in what surely must have been an inseparable mix of grief and resistance, mourning and organizing. Fires burned, turning the city, metaphorically, if not literally, into a funeral pyre; flames danced disobediently, yet also perhaps as if public candles lit in honor and memory of Alexis.

Tonight, I’m thinking on so many brutal losses in this world, and yet so many ways people have strived to not let them be forgotten, because, as Jewish resistance fighter Hannah Senesh wrote before her murder by Nazis in Hungary in 1944, “there are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even if they are no longer among the living.”

I hold space for mourning, as rebel Jew, as I light candles on my menorah on this fifth night of Hanukkah, with the words of a sixteenth-century rabbi in my head: “I will build an altar from the broken fragments of my heart.”

#OurDreamsTheirNightmares #WeMustOutliveThem

Night 6:

The power of light is that it illuminates what might go unseen, even as it warms and replenishes our hearts for the struggles ahead.

The 2 little lions on the base of my lifelong menorah are yellow-gold in the glow of Hanukkah night 6 candles; yellow manes, in some folklore, symbolize solar: the generation of heat from light. Old biblical references talk of when “people riseth up as a lioness,” and various mentions of lions in Judaism speak of them symbolizing the roaring of raw power, courage, fierceness.

Around (Shabbat) dinnertime today, the white supremacist who murdered Heather Heyer and seriously injured dozens of other in Charlottesville the summer before last was convicted, and one of the brave-hearted survivors let out a relieved roar, calling on folks to march through Cville, to reclaim pride and affirm lionlike strength against fascism.

Another news article this evening claims that France is on “the brink of insurrection,” as myriad blockades, barricades, and bonfires brightly spotlight that people are weary of austerity, precariousness, and vulnerability. Yellow is the color of this uprising.

One can never know which direction such resistance will go in. Will it prowl toward liberation and freedom, or set itself up as “king of the beasts,” lording brutally over others? It’s enough on night 6 to remind ourselves that we can emerge from being the Cowardly Lion to (re)discover and make good collective use of our bravery. That we can generate the light of resistance, and with radical care, nurture it into the light of better worlds.

My dreidel spin tonight gifts you stories of Jewish heroines who inspired resistance and I. B. Singer’s “The Power of Light,” read by my rebel Jew friends Malcah Friedman and Avi Grenadier: https://radio613.wordpress.com/2009/12/17/episode-29-chanukah-stories/

#BeTheLight #BeTheLionHearted #ResistAndPersist #WeMustOutLiveThem

Night 7:

I only found out a couple nights ago that for the whole of my life, which has included this same menorah, I’ve done the candles wrong. On the yearly 8 nights of Hanukkah, I’ve put them in, wrongly, left to right, and lit them from left to right too (at least with the correct 9th candle, the shamash, translated variously as “servant” or “helper,” depending on one’s worldview I suppose). The proper way, it seems, is putting them in the menorah right to left, and then each night, lighting the newest-night’s candle, meaning left to right, but for a reason I, wrongly, had no idea about it.

For the past two evenings, I’ve felt bad about this lifelong wrongness.

Tonight, though, on evening 7, I realized that I pretty much get everything wrong, and pretty much always have! Since my earliest memories, this world has always felt wrong. I thus have seemed to do things like gender, age, family, friends, partners, home, education, skills, work, emotions, politics, ethics, care, love, holding my tongue … You name it, I do it wrong — at the wrong time and place, with the wrong definitions, in the wrong manner, … Or in short, at wrongful cross-purposes with the “right” way that this society views ”correct” beliefs, behaviors, and practices.

Of course, it’s one thing to wrong someone I genuinely care for or love — meaning “care for or love” in the wrong way according to heteropatriarchy or capitalism, say. That isn’t right. (Yet one still faces the quandary that in this world, we have so few good illustrations of do-it-ourselves mending, honestly and humbly, with reciprocal empathy and transformative paths forward.) It’s wholly another thing to aspire to be “right” in a wrong social order — a really, really, deadly wrong one.

So this 7th night, I spin the dreidel and give you the gift of being as wrong as possible against all the conventions and institutions and chains of this current social order. Be a troublemaker! Make mistakes, and ever better ones! Mess up this world, toward a messy-beautiful free society of free peoples! Make wrong to do right!

#TryAnarchismForLife #TryAnarchismForLight

Night 8:

The 8th night of Hanukkah (one day late) could signal going from brilliant full light to fading and then extinguished flame, heading into tomorrow’s of increasing darkness. The days grow shorter, and the nights longer. My $3.50 box of candles is now empty, as are the tiny candleholders on my menorah. I feel the emptiness too, as if those 8 nights of illumination had kindled a renewed fire inside me, only to be dampened by the sudden last flicker of the last candle on this last night.

But a little message in a bottle reached me, serendipitously. Or rather, a message on the tiny paper holder for a herbal tea bag on this chilly winter’s eve: “Live light, travel light, spread the light, be the light.”

We rebels, we heretics and misfits, no matter how bleak the world feels — or indeed actually is — we must travel into that seeming emptiness with whatever lanterns we can salvage from the ruins. We must live as if already in the light of a new society, as if already the reflection of the people we want to be, all the while shining our dim, cobbled-together lanterns on the cracks, almost-imperceptible as they may be, in the disaster that is capitalism, the state, fascism, white supremacy, patriarchy… We must spread the light of possibility, even as (or because) we see, feel, and experience so much that’s impossibly brutal and unbearable. If we aren’t the light for ourselves and others, if we let it die because we are told our time is up, the days of light are over, we are already the walking dead.

Be the light, even in the dark.

#TryAnarchismForLife #TryAnarchismAsLight


One comment on “Eight Reflections: Hanukkah 2018

  1. theconfusedminder
    January 14, 2019

    As a gentile, I really found this touching. I am not too familiar with the Hanukkah so I’m glad to be able to get this insight from you. 😀

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This entry was posted on December 12, 2018 by in Dispatches from Life, Dispatches from Rebellious Spaces, Uncategorized.
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