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A lit Hanukkah menorah in a dark room surrounded by other blurry lights in the background

Reaching Across Divides in Israel

by Tamar Davis, CEO

I recently returned from a three-day personal trip to Israel, where I spent time with my closest childhood friend, Jennifer Airley, whose son Binyamin fell in Gaza less than two weeks ago. It was an intense trip to say the least, to be there with my friend and with my siblings and family members who have husbands and children fighting in this war we didn’t ask for.

At the same time, the country was preparing for the start of Chanukah, with the the smells of mouth-watering sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts) floating through the air and Jews of every denomination flocking to stores to buy holiday gifts. Seeing this diversity reminded me of how the struggle of Chanukah was a struggle against forced assimilation. The Greek Hellenists wanted everyone to be the same; for the Jews to give up our religion and our heritage. Chanukah is a joyful rejection of these ideas, where we celebrate our differences, our Jewish values, and our individualities.

At the shiva (mourning) house in Israel, my friend Jennifer shared a remarkable story. As an exercise physiologist, Jennifer teaches a variety of classes, including one of Deaf students, one of students who are blind or have low vision, and another of deafblind individuals, with this last group composed of both Jewish and Arab participants. When they heard about Jennifer’s son, two of the Arab women in this class wanted to pay her a shiva visit. When these Arab women came into Jennifer’s home — the home of a fallen IDF soldier — they fell upon each other, crying in sorrow together with her. I can only imagine how powerful it was to witness this gesture of empathy and compassion, coming as it did from across so many differences and divides.

The word Chanukah has several meanings, one of which derives from the shoresh (root word) of chinuch, meaning education. Making this trip to Israel in the days before Chanukah and hearing Jennifer’s story reminded me of the power of education — that we are a people who teach our children to recognize the potential in every individual, to reach out across divides, and to understand that together we are even greater than our parts.

May we continue to celebrate all of our differences and to nurture the glimmers of light during these dark times. Our hearts are with our brethren in Israel and everywhere in this world.

Chag Chanukah sameach (happy Hanukkah) and Shabbat shalom.

Signature of Tamar Davis

Tamar Davis
Chief Executive Officer