Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chanukah: A Celebration of Religous Freedom

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah.

I have to admit that each year I have to remind myself of the details of the historical story. It's more complicated than the nativity story, but just as compelling.

So here it is from last year's blog:

In 167 b.c.e., a Greek leader named Antiochus attempted to institute a Greek state religion. He ordered the takeover of the temple in Jerusalem, had a statute of Zeus built on its altar, and called for ritual sacrifice there and in other Jewish temples throughout the countryside. Mattathias killed the first Jew who came forward to offer a sacrifice as well as a state official, and he and his five sons were forced to escape to the hills. Together, they organized first a small band of rebels to resist Antiochus, which grew to a 6000 person army that retook Jerusalem and the Temple.

Three years from the day that Zeus was erected, the 25th of Kislav, Judas Maccabeus and his followers rededicated and purified the Temple in an 8 day celebration. Chanukah has been celebrated more or less continuously for 2,176 years.

According to a very short passage in the Talmud, the Maccabees came into the temple and after purifying it, went to relight the eternal flame. They only had enough oil for one day. Pressing new oil from the olive trees would take another week. Miraculously the oil lasted for the entire eight days.

The Rabbis who wrote the Talmud transformed this historic military battle into a story of God’s miracle and grace to the Jewish people. They moved it from a story based on the facts to a story based on the universal need for faith and hope and redemption. The oil lasting 8 days is a truth story, and most likely not a true story.

Chanukah is a holiday then about religious freedom, diversity, and hope. It's also a reminder that to paraphrase Margaret Mead's famous words, a small group of people can change the world; in fact, it's the only way that happens. As we light the first candles tonight, let us praise the heroes, those who stand up to oppression, and let us rekindle hope in our hearts for everyday miracles.

Happy Chanukah!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rape Is Never A Joke -- and Too Real for Too Many of Us

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control released yesterday found that one in five women report they have been the victim of sexual assault, more than half when they were teenagers.

I'm one of those women.

I was a victim of date rape once at college and once in my early twenties. Except at the time there wasn't a term for "date rape" -- it was more understood as "that's what you get if you are alone with a man in a bedroom." I reported neither. In today's world, I would have reported both.

I'd like to think that in today's world they wouldn't happen -- that young men know that "no means no" and that in the second situation, I would have screamed and fought back sooner.

But the story coming out of the University of Vermont indicates that things may not have changed as much as we'd like to think. A fraternity there did a poll last weekend asking, "who would you like to rape?" Not, who would you like to go out with, get to know, even have sex with, but RAPE. My heart chilled as I read that story.

The young men there have been censured and said it was just a joke. But, rape is never a joke. Just ask one in five women you know.