Rebecca Herman is a 2021-22 Tzedek Fellow, learning about global poverty and international development with a diverse cohort of students and young professionals. Having completed a degree in Geography, she is a voice for environmental awareness and sustainability.
Here are her thoughts on what we can learn from the Chanukah story:
Now, you might be asking how the ancient story of Chanukah is at all related to the climate change happening today. How does climate change which is unprecedented and extreme and a consequence of our actions as humans, compare to the tale of an evil ruler commanding the ancient Jews to give up everything they believe in? Yet, there are many transferable lessons regarding the idea of working together to achieve a shared goal as well as resilience against a reality which feels so finite.
The story begins in the second century when a king named Antiochus ruled the Greco-Syria region, the land we know today as Israel and its surrounding areas. Antiochus IV was a Greek king who prayed to Zeus and wanted everyone else to pray to him too. In his conquest to obtain more land in the region, Antiochus saw the Jewish people as a threat. The differences in religious practice did not sit well with the King and he saw these differences as a barrier to his success. Therefore, Antiochus tried to break down the Jewish nation and assimilate them to be like him. He threatened the Jews, forbid their practice, and even went as far as ordering the dismantling and wrecking of the precious Judaica housed inside the second temple, including the sacred oil used to light the menorah.
Rightly so, the Jewish people were confused and terrified. Everything they had built up and loved was being destroyed and it seemed like there was nothing they could do about it. They were being forced to change their lifestyles rapidly and adapt to a new way of living almost instantly. These same emotions are an incredibly relevant part of climate change.
Each day, millions of people globally are affected by climate change which not only changes the natural landscape that communities rely upon, but also causes a magnitude of knock-on-effects. People are being displaced suddenly from their homes due to extreme weather events, creating huge economic instability and uncertainty. There are also social challenges and obstacles, especially for those living in extreme poverty, such as a lack of job opportunities or food insecurity.
The repercussions of our actions, for example burning fossils fuels and polluting our natural resources, has massively affected so many lives, yet it seems like the resolution is almost impossible given how reliant the world is on these destructive methods, and how difficult it is for world leaders to agree on policies and solutions, as seen recently at COP26.
The Jewish people felt the same in the Chanukah story: they were being oppressed by a power bigger than their own, and despite the direct affect it was having on their livelihoods, fighting back seemed impossible.
However, not everyone had this mindset. A man named Judah Maccabee recognised the obvious power that Antiochus had over the land, but fundamentally disagreed with the actions the king was taking to gain control. Although it seemed almost pointless given the size and power of the Greek army, Judah put together his own one: the Maccabees.
What the Maccabees lacked in resources they made up for in drive. Their passion, determination and hope for a better future was enough fuel to carry them through. Despite the odds stacked against them, the tiny army of fighters fought and defeated the mighty Greek army.
We can learn a lot from this victory when thinking and discussing climate change. Although it seems like the world has given in to the might of climate change and the huge affects that have dominated all its systems, there is still a glimpse of hope we can hold on to. We know rectifying our actions and making more environmentally conscious decisions can have the power to mitigate further destruction.
At the end of the Chanukah story, the Jewish people enter their temple which had been completely ransacked to find one tiny drop of kosher oil fit to light the holy menorah. This oil was only meant to keep the candelabra lit for one day but instead, by some miracle, kept it alight for eight. It was burning until a more permanent solution came along, and more oil was processed and sent down from the North of the country.
On our own we might feel powerless against the might of climate change, however, just like the Maccabees, we cannot let the size of the challenge deter us from standing up for our planet and the people who need the support worldwide. The effects of climate change have been catastrophic especially for those living in extreme poverty in the global south. We must fight with determination like Judah and his army, never giving in and holding on to the light which shone so brightly on the menorah until a more permanent solution is found.
If you would like to support Tzedek’s work in alleviating extreme poverty and building resilience within civil society this Chanukah, gift your loved one the drop that starts the ripple.