One thing I love about being a Jew is that there are so many possible ways of being one. One can be Orthodox, Chassidic, Haredi, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, a Kabbalistic Jew or a non-traditional Jew, a JuBu (Jewish Buddhist) unaffiliated, agnostic, even an atheist Jew who eschews being a Jew, an American Jew, immigrant, Ashkenazi, Ukrainian, Polish Jew, a Moroccan/ Sephardic/ African Jew, a Jewish descendant of Jews who ran from Nazis and Cossacks, a Marxist, socialist, capitalist Jew, a feminist Jew, apolitical, or anything in between, a pro-Israel Jew, a pro-Palestinian Jew, a both peoples Jew, a philosophical Jew, intellectual Jew, neurotic Jew.
You can be a cultural Jew, a lox and bagel Jew, a mink stole-High Holidays only Jew, a lower East Side or an upper West side Jew, a hilarity through the pain Jew, a Lenny Bruce, Joan Rivers, Woody Allen, or Gilda Radner Jew, a Jew with diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome, a mishpuchah Jew, a Yiddish-speaking Jewish Grandma who has more latkes for you, a Jew who expresses with hand gestures and big emotions, a Freudian or Gestaltian Jew, a Jew who loves study and books, a Jew who argues with God (‘Isra’-‘El’ means “to wrestle with God”) and with everyone else, an idol-breaking Jew, a Jew who leaves home for the wilderness, a Jew who clings to tradition, or a Jew who stays broken open for new revelations.
On the days when I lean into a belief in (longing for?) a deity, I lean into this one, the One who is open to whatever we imagine, sometimes the Shekhinah, the Female Presence whom I call Big Mom, but certainly One who leaves room for some multitudinous version of who I might be. I also lean into the longing for justice, so a Felix Frankfurter, a Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Paul Wellstone, or a Norman Lear Jew.
In this time, I think of one of the various meanings of Chanukah – not of celebrating a minor military victory, not of the so-called miracle of oil-for-light, but for me, a recognition of the growing light, as the new moon/ darkest day of the year always falls in the middle of Chanukah. We are asked to think about light, that it will begin to grow each day, a few minutes more light after the moment of greatest darkness. We are asked to believe in, and to add to the light. The candle which brings light to the other candles, adding light to defeat the darkness, is the Shamash, the “helper” candle. Could each of us “be the Shamash”, each in our own way? I wonder how we can bring more light to each other, and to a dark world? Can we bring more light in the mind’s eye for understanding, more light of the candle for learning, and not the fires of burning books or bodies?
Dinah Kudastky is a resident of Amherst.