Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Hanukkah 5783: Ritual as Resistance


There’s nary a Jewish holiday or ritual that isn’t about sorrow as well as joy. They are as inseparable as the braids in a challah loaf or havdallah candle , or during Hanukkah, the shredded potatoes in latkes.

It is this interwoven quality that makes Jewish rituals so life-giving, because to live a whole life means embracing the sorrows and joys that are part of the human condition, yet in ways that aid us in journeying side by side with others through the darkness and light.

In this third pandemic Chanuka, 5783, in the deepening fascism, Christian supremacy 2022, it is difficult to see that balance, to see blessed light. Tonight’s menorah is so far from even “a cup half full” of lightness in this world, in these bleak times. There is more emptiness, more darkness, than feels possible to hold.

There are the small, blessed darknesses still—like seasonal cycles, which even if they steal away the daylight now, are essential for life, or this menorah, which my parents used from my earliest memories, and was the only object, as material remembrance, that I wanted when they died, yet when the candles flicker out each night, I miss my folks all over again.

Those are easy, even comforting to bear.

It is the big, cursed darknesses that are making it feel, well, dark—as if the gray skies blotting out sun and moon daily this winter are mirroring all the fascistic, wholly unnecessary sorrows—violences—swirling around us.

It feels impossible that the light of promise, much less hope, will return. We must sit with that uncertainty.

And while we do, Hanukkah will somatically exercise our capacity to notice—and maybe reweave—blessed dark and blessed light, to rededicate our fighting spirit for them, by easing our bodies over the next eight nights into “fuller cups” of sparks, of flames. Literally, with our hands, we will bring more light to life each evening—light that’s only visible because of the darkness; an inseparable illumination of what, by the eighth day, gestures at the worlds we dream of, the worlds we conjure via rituals of resistance so as to inhabit them now, if only for the length of candles burning brightly over this Kanika.

(photos: one purple and one orange lit candles set in a metal menorah, with the other seven candleholders empty, against a tan-colored wall; black-and-white art by Wendy Elisheva Somerson featuring two crows, each holding one candle in its beak, toward a branch/treelike menorah with the words “bless dark” and “bless light.)

#RitualAsResistance #FreilachHanukkahNotFascism #TryJewishAnarchismForLife



One way we diasporic people survive is by telling and retelling stories. Stories that carry culture and meaning; bind community; make us laugh and cry, or cry via humor, to get through trauma; warn as well as inspire, but nearly always, stories that make us proud of who we are, quirks and all.

So much of Jewish holidays involves storytelling (and food)—on repeat. Yet like all good stories, those tales are constantly reinterpreted and repurposed for specific times and contexts. When you think that we Jews are at 5783 on our calendar and are dispersed around the globe, spanning all races, genders, etc., that’s a whole lot of embellishment on each and every story (and we have a lot of stories)!

Yet it really is crucial to be compelled each holiday to spin new yarns from old stories. We’re being asked to reflect on the dilemmas we find ourselves in, and what we’re willing to do to struggle toward freedom in the here and now.

One Hanukkah story that’s gotten repeated over the past several years is captured in the second photo: Rachel Posner, a rabbi’s wife, put a menorah in their window in Kiel, Germany, in 1931, visible to the Nazi headquarters across the street. We share this photo each year as prompt to, say, retell family tales or wider histories of that era, revisit our values in relation to the past, or affirm that “never again” applies to all peoples.

This year, I saw it in a new light: 2022 Christian fascism. The Nazi flag morphed into a US one, and counterintuitively, I only want to be more loud, proud, and out as a Jew as today’s fascism takes hold.

It also reminded me of visiting Theresienstadt years ago—a city turned into a death camp in the Czech Republic in Nazi times. A guide, knowing I was Jewish, showed me a small room, dark and dusty, saying it was a space back then where each week, a few Jews would gather secretly to light Shabbes candles for all.

They risked death to light candles. They lit candles to show they were still alive.

What stories do we want to keep alive via our retelling—as the light of our defiance, resistance, and aspirations—to keep more of us alive and even thriving?

(photo #1: my #AllChanukahsAreBeautiful candles on night two of Xanika, in orange, yellow, and purple colors, set in a metal menorah with an #ACAB sign in the background)

#RitualAsResistance #FreilachHanukkahNotFascism #WeMustOutliveThem #TryJewishAnarchismForLife



Hannuqah is gay! Maybe Chanuka is even “be gay, do crime,” because back in the day, we got to steal seven extra days out of a one-day supply of oil.

But its queerness shines on many levels.

For instance, you get to pick your own name, or at least its spelling and pronunciation, and be fluid about shaking it up when the Xanikah spirit moves you. You can play with the candles, creating fabulous or sensual combinations of colors, or lighting them in all sorts of transgressive orders—left to right or reverse, few to many or reverse, or pure chaos. You can dress up your menorah(s) for each night out, or self-determine what to top (or bottom) a latke with.

More than anything, though, Channuqa urges us to resist assimilation in the queerest of ways, smashing binaries. It blesses the light and dark, but especially the liminal spaces that let us see all the myriad possibilities between light and dark, such as when the radiant light of a candle flirtatiously embraces the now-radiant darkness.

Yet a shadow has been cast on that fabulousness this 5783 year—a shadow that isn’t new, but has gotten more ominous.

We see in Hanuka’s flame what US Christian fascism 2022 is trying to extinguish, and in heartbreaking moments, succeeds at extinguishing: drag shows, queer books, gender-affirming surgery, trans and queer life, and so much more. We see Club Q, and mourn our dead there. We surround our menorahs with DIY altars to our many other dead, who too often are Black trans women and queer youths—murdered, directly or indirectly, by fascism, which demands rigid binaries and heteropatriarchal bodies.

We see our fire too. The ways we bash back with, say, community self-defense, vigils, wound-care trainings, and huge dance-party-antifascist-demos in the streets—gay fucking pride versus proud boys and their ilk.

This Xanukah, may we rededicate ourselves to queer joy, and all the nonbinary ways that gender, sex, and sexuality light up the world, even as we know we’ll need many miracles to outlast the fascists.

(photos: my night three rainbow-colored candles in front of @elijahjanka’s art depicting early 1900s’ queer+trans joy via a drawing of five people borrowed from an ethnographic photo for the Years of Radical Dreaming: Jewish Calendar Project; “queer or nothing” wheatpaste, drawn as a black+white heart with a splash of pink, seen in Tio’tia:ke/Montreal, summer 5782)

#RitualAsResistance #FreilachHanukkahNotFascism #TryJewishAnarchismForLife #AllChanukahsAreBeautiful



On this fourth night of Chanukah, auspiciously falling on solstice, I thought that by now, the increasing candlelight and promise of increasing daylight would have worked their somatic magic. That I would feel as if I’m on the other side of the darkness of these times, even if only a bit.

Yet I’ve noticed that my body isn’t responding, like it always has before, to the candles. I feel frozen, stuck, not able to offer or take in light.

It’s not just the accumulated trauma of loss and isolation, from and during the pandemic, though it is that too. It’s the shift that seems to have happened from a protofascist USA into, increasingly, everyday fascism. The fascistic horrors didn’t—and still don’t—come at once, but get added one at a time, strategically, like the methodical addition of a Chanukah candle daily, acclimatizing people little by little—until it’s too late to turn back from the conflagration.

So instead of journeying toward the growing light, I can’t stop thinking of anarchistic author Daniel Guérin (1904-88) traveling into what he called “the brown plague”—Nazism—in 1932 and 1933. For those two years, as a young closeted gay man, he wandered around Germany—just prior to and, a year later, just after the seizure of National Socialist power. What he noticed was not geopolitics but rather the minutiae of cultural politics, the stuff of everyday life. He wrote of the little things that added up to the “tragedy unfolding” and people’s “inability to recognize danger,” including because of the “seductive rituals” Nazis employed to win over the populace.

One year he’s staying at youth hostels, likely acting on his sexual desires in a place, Weimar Germany, that was the hub of gay life. The next, many of the same youths he might have comingled with are burning books by the tens of thousands across thirty-four cities, including trashing, looting, and burning the extensive library of Magnus Hirschfeld’s (in)famous, and (in)famously gay, Institute of Sexology.

Those books, once lit, grew quickly into flames that consumed people.

I want to see light this Chanukah. But all I see are ashes.

(photos: my antifascist candles; a sign and me at the Tucson Jewish Museum, 2019)

#RitualAsResistance #MourningOurDead #FightingLikeHellForTheLiving #FreilachHanukkahNotFascism #TryJewishAnarchismForLife #AllChanukahsAreBeautiful



Tonight, as the last of my Hanukkah candles burned down, it kept flickering out, and then multiple times, burst back into flames.

It offered, quite literally, ritual as resistance, refusing to give up, despite the odds of this evening’s configuration of a sacred time-space lasting.

But ritual as resistance has many other radical, life-giving roles. Among them, our rituals let us deactivate from the stress of what they (e.g., cops, courts, and the state) do to us; instead of reacting to them, we pause. We coregulate. We reignite the sacred fires inside us, and from there, self-determine how to proactively direct our actions and practices.

Indeed, the small act of knowing that we can always light a candle, that we can gaze into its glow and find warmth, find effervescence, is huge in terms of rekindling our spirits, especially when we’re up against the worst.

For instance, that our Hanukkah candles increase day by day isn’t a mere numbers game. What’s illuminated is the growing solidarity between the candies, burning in concert, supplying a felt sense of interconnection and collective possibilities.

This Hanukkah has brought some of the worst to Defend the Atlanta Forest and Stop Cop City. Six people were arrested, are now being held without bond, and face charges of “domestic terrorism” for caring about a forest. A years’ worth of infrastructure related to mutual aid and forest defense was destroyed by cops and capitalists, as was a paved walkway and many trees in this public park.

But last night, about 100 people “gathered in the rubble of our beloved park to celebrate the solstice, … to build altars in the debris,” as @kezleyseeslife put it. “A crater in the ground was turned into a fire pit. A menorah was lit to celebrate Hanukkah,” added @atlpresscollective. Everything we build, and will keep building, “is born from our already broken hearts. … The forest will heal. We will heal,” Kezley asserted.

(photos: my brightly colored night 5 candles next to @desrevol’s brilliant painting of a possum, mouthing “Abolish the police,” surrounded by brightly colored flowers; picture of the rubble turned into an altar, including the tagged words from some anonymous forest defender, “You won’t win,” in the Weelaunee forest yesterday from @atlpresscollective; brightly colored hand-painted sign reading “Let us love and be loved by the forest,” which I photographed pre-rubble in October 2022)

#AllChanukkahsAreBeautiful #RitualAsResistance #CandlesNotCops #TryJewishAnarchismForLife



“When the world is sick / can’t no one be well / but I dreamt we was all beautiful and strong.”
—lyrics by Silver Mt Zion

I spent the whole of this “feels like” minus-17-degrees day resisting, including when I lit my candles on this sixth night of Xannukah+Shabbes.

Yet it wasn’t the kind of resistance that feels generative.

In the same song that contains the lyrics above, Silver Mt Zion observed that “the world’s a mess and so are we.”

I’m often able to resist the latter part of that claim by holding to the belief that we are “messy beautiful,” in profound contrast and contestation to a social order that’s “messy ugly,” “messy brutal,” “messy deadly.” And that belief in turns sparks a resistance in me to want to transform this world, side by side with others.

But this day, this Xannukah, the third under a palpably sicker world from the tridemics of COVID, ecocide, and fascism, it’s hard not to feel that “everything has gone crazy,” and we are simply a mess. Or at least I am.

So today, it was all I could do to resist on the most micro of levels.

I had to resist with all of my might the impulse to not go for a walk, and instead somehow force myself outdoors, if only for 30 frigid minutes of a heavily bundled-up trudge. I had to resist the impulse to eat badly, to sink deep(er) into depression, to see today’s bleakness and “going crazy” as how I always feel, or always will feel. I had to resist a feeling I’ve never had before: that I didn’t want to light my Xanukkah candles.

That resistance—to all of that and more—took everything to even so-so accomplish. Especially to resist being hard on myself.

I know that none of us can be well in this sick world, and that makes days like today a struggle. For I know that resistance can and has to be much larger than me “resisting” the impulse to eat a cookie or feel stuck if we’re going to mend this world. Still, what makes us “messy beautiful,” to my mind, is that we try to resist on every level, down to the cellular level, in service of life, ours and everyone else’s.

(photos: my night six, brightly colored and lit Xanukkah candles and a Bread and Puppet postcard that says “resist” alongside a drawing of red poppies; tag in black spray paint saying “everything has gone crazy” on a gray concrete-block wall, seen in April 2021 on stolen Anishinabeeg lands)

#WeMustOutliveThem #RitualAsResistance



I haven’t seen the moon in ages. Gray days blur into overcast night skies. Instead, I relied on written pages to tell me what I want to trust is out there this Hanukkah eve: the new moon, and thus a new month, Tevet 5783.

That, in turn, meant turning the page on my Years of Radical Dreaming: Jewish Calendar Project to find the art of my friend @alias_alice, who’s across oceans, but lighting candles under the same moon that’s hard to see and so from the looks of this drawing is relying on books too.

That makes sense. Jews are “people of the book,” and some believe that the book preceded the creation of the world and was written in fire. Books can shape, reimagine, and transform the world, and make new ones. Books can save lives in this one.

Many, many new moons ago, when the pandemic was new, I felt beyond lifeless. Each morning, I woke startled anew, wondering why I was still here, and only wanting to sleep again. And walk, obsessively, for hours. For some reason, one day I tucked a big book of speculative fiction under my arm and set off on foot. I’d never read the genre, and as it was, my broken heart had no ability to read at all. Yet I sat by a lake and somehow got through one chapter. Then another chapter the next day, and so on, until I had something to look forward to, even if I still couldn’t clearly see it. I got lost in trusting the written fire of the other worlds and other moons created in this book.

Perhaps we Jews light candles with such ritual persistence because colonialism, christianization, and capitalism have stolen the moon—our illumination—ripping apart our lunisolar calendar, bloating out the skies with climate catastrophe, letting billionaires like Musk make it their playground. Perhaps we write and read books as our weapon against them, and fiery promise of sacred worlds to and for each other.

So while we have to trust, hopeless as that feels these fascist-gray days, that the moon will reappear, new and maybe even whole, let’s always carry a book of our rebel wisdom and use its fire to the fullest.

Come, watch the moon with me, even if we can only imagine its guiding light, now obscured by all that pains us.

(photos: my night 7 candles in front of a drawing of a book, set against a pink floral background, with a 1940 Walter Benjamin quote, “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule” and the words #AlwaysCarryABook, or #ACAB; red spray-painted outline of a heart on a gray wall with the tagged words inside it, “If you want, we can watch the moon?!,” spotted in an alley in Tio’tia:ke/Montreal, June 2022)

#WeMustOutliveThem #RitualAsResistance #AllChanukkahsAreBeautiful #TryAnarchismForLife



On this last, eighth night of Chanuka, I read a blessing written eight years ago by Rabbi Brant Rosen as I lit my candles, seemingly so whole, blazing in strength and solidarity.

“We light these lights
for the instigators and the refusers
the obstinate and unyielding
for the ones who kept marching
the ones who tended the fires
the ones who would not bow down. …

“These lights we light tonight
will never be used for
any other purpose but to proclaim
the miracle of this truth:
it is not by might nor by cruelty
but by a love that burns relentlessly
that this broken world
will be redeemed.”

Love, of course, won’t stop fascism. The murder of three Kurds in Paris this past Friday, inseparable from the fascism of the Erdogan regime in Turkey, is but the latest cruel example.

Yet smashing fascism demands that we love each other, expansively, whether across their borders, or our beloved identities and cultures.

We need such relentlessly burning love in order to sustain our fight for a world without fascism. We need it to protect and defend each other in ways that reflect the best parts of ourselves and our humanity. And we especially need that love when all seems lost and bleak—feelings that have marked this Hanukkah 5783 for me.

Our rebellious love—which I saw in the blessed flames of my candles this eve—is why we mourn our dead and fight for the living so fiercely, with such heart and chutzpah, even when we’re hurting or weary. And it’s why—when and if that day comes, and only because of our relentless, loving rituals of resistance—we’ll dance joyously together on the grave of fascism. May it be so!

I mouthed Rosen’s blessing tonight as a love letter to my chosen, beloved rebel ancestors, and for all of you beloved rebels, who might need it too, but also to try to make myself feel—or rather trust in—some of the wholeness of my candles, full of fire for the hard, maybe even harder, days ahead.

#WeMustOutliveThem #RitualAsResistance #HateFascismLoveYourFriends #AllChanukkahsAreBeautiful

(photos: my brightly colored, night 8 candles with a red-and-black flag on an “antifascist action” sticker; despite our brokenness and all the messiness around us, “love more,” as this tag in white ink on a black utility box suggests, as seen on the streets of Tio’tia:ke/Montreal in June 2022)

For the full Brant Rosen prayer:


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This entry was posted on December 26, 2022 by in Uncategorized.
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