Sometimes I dread this time of year. It’s dark. It’s cold. The commercials and ads imploring us to buy, buy, buy. The massive consumption. All of it overwhelming; none of it uplifting.
It’s also a bit of a metaphor for the time we’re living in. It sometimes seems that the immense, violent, and hateful forces we fight every day could swallow us up in a wave of darkness.
And then... I remember. There is light. Everywhere! Inside each of us. We are the light. We carry it with us, without knowing when we’ll have a chance to be the light for others. And, wonderfully, beautifully, sometimes, when it’s most unexpected, we find light in someone else.I am Alissa Wise. Rabbi, organizer, educator, and anti-racist activist. This Chanukah season, I am honoring the light in my life: my cousin, Nava.
Nava and I didn’t meet until 2004. But our history goes way, way back. Our grandfathers were brothers—their father, Abraham Benjamin Wise, came to America through the benevolence of Herschel Manischewitz (yes, that Manischewitz!). The family that connects us settled in Palestine in 1809—part of the Nahalat Shiva, the seven Jewish families that first settled outside the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem.
To say that our family, our ancestors, are proud of their Zionist past is a huge understatement. So, it is not a surprise that as I became ever more aware of the horrific injustices in Palestine and began expressing my Judaism by evolving, acting, and shining my light on what was happening, many in my family responded with resistance and denial, even as others were on the path with me. Family gatherings, which had been so full of love and light in my youth, increasingly became a source of conflict and sadness.
So, I began to believe that to do the work that felt the most authentic to me, I would be at odds with my family. With that thinking, I may never have found Nava.
Nava and I had a lot in common. I went to the same rabbinical school that some of Nava’s parents graduated from. She and I were even both in Jerusalem in 1999, where—unknown to one another—we were both experiencing a consciousness shift and becoming Palestinian solidarity activists.
But we never met—I was too accustomed to family members being hostile. Why ask for more?
Finally, in 2004, we met in Brooklyn. We were brought together by a gathering of Jewish Palestine solidarity activists. We immediately were smitten with each other, truly illuminated by the miracle of light that led us to each other (or at least that’s how it felt!).
Really, we couldn’t be more different. Me, a rabbi. Nava, secular and sarcastic. Both of us, though, lit and guided by our heritage. By our Judaism. Our Judaism defines our life cycle events, food, language, history, and (now) our activism.
Nava didn’t set out to be my light. But, oh, she is. To be both friends and family in this work is a privilege, a source of light I now can’t imagine being without. There she is, bright and loud and shining for me and everyone else to see. And for that, for her, I am grateful.
Rabbi Alissa Wise, Director of Campaigns
Jewish Voice for Peace