A memory from many years ago. It’s Hanukkah. We’re standing outside in the synagogue parking lot on a mild Los Angeles day. I’m a teenager. Around the large outdoor Menorah my rabbi and cantor, many adults, and some of us teenagers are dancing a hora. We’re singing loudly. Am Yisrael Hai! The Jewish people lives! Od Avinu Hai! The memory of our ancestors lives! Posters hang from the buildings around us. “Save Soviet Jews!” TV cameras are there. A newspaper photographer takes pictures for the morning edition.
On behalf of the Jews living in the former Soviet Union whose freedom we seek, this is one of so many rallies and protests at which we dance and march. Our passions run high in the 1970s and 1980s. We are advocating for human rights and Jewish dignity in the world, still very important causes.
Celebrating these memories this Hanukkah inspires me. It’s something those who are too young to remember the Soviet Jewry Movement need to learn about. We changed history. We made a difference. The world noticed us, and in some cases, joined in with us.
It’s a big mystery to me. Why is human history in every age filled with episodes of persecution, intolerance, and disrespect among people? We even sing about it on Hanukkah. Mi y’mallel? “Who can recall the things that befell us, who can count them?”
It continues in our day. Tyrants murder their citizens. Despots deny human rights and personal freedoms. Terrorists fire their missiles or plot their attacks. Religious extremists justify their venom in the name of a god we don’t recognize. Why? Who can explain it?
That’s why we remember the victory, the freedom of Soviet Jews. That’s why we must tell the story to the next generation. It was a moment when light overcame darkness, when hope was realized, and human dignity redeemed.
The lights we kindle on Hanukkah are a statement to ourselves and our neighbors. We believe in a brighter future for everyone. We help make it happen. Many years ago I learned this singing and dancing a hora around a Menorah.