Festivals of Light! This year Christmas and Chanukkah are celebrated at the same time. For many engaged in dialogue between Jews and Christians it is tempting to compare these holidays with each other.
Certainly, I believe customs that are common in Christian homes are inspired by Jewish rituals and vice versa. One small example, a reflection of a Chanukkah custom, is the seven armed electric chandeliers that are so frequent in windows during Advent and Christmas, at least in Sweden. But the motivations for these customs, as well as practices, differ in substantial ways. As usual, it is a challenge to see the richness in difference, to see the blessing of alterity and cherish it.
Still, there are themes in these two holidays that we share. The first that comes to mind is light. Both Chanukkah and Christmas are holidays of light when we who live in the northern hemisphere experience the shortest and darkest days of the year. Let there be light in darkness, light to guide us, to help us keeping hope, to console and to help us remembering all the good gifts in life.
At the center of the messages of Chanukkah and Christmas is wonder. Chanukkah is the celebration of how one jar of oil could keep the menorah in the temple lit for eight days. Light is stronger than darkness, belief stronger than unbelief, hope stronger than despair. Christmas tells of another miracle, the birth of a child called Immanuel who will be regarded as the Son of God, a light to all the nations.
We are in the last days of 2019 and of a decade. The ICCJ year has consisted of a consultation in Jerusalem where we met with organizations and people involved in dialogue and initiatives for peace. Our yearly conference and AGM were held in Lund, Sweden, my hometown; the theme of the conference was transformations of self-understandings through encounter and dialogue. We highlighted the 10th anniversary of our document A Time for Recommitment to Jewish-Christian Relations: The Twelve Points of Berlin. We issued statements against antisemitism and on the climate crisis. In September we celebrated that we’ve had our headquarters in the Martin Buber House in Heppenheim for 40 years.
Every New Year is a time for recommitment, for renewal and hope. 2020 will bring new challenges, possibilities and promises, but also disappointments, pain and anguish. But we enter the New Year with Chanukkah and Christmas in close memory. Keep faith, be brave and always give thanks!
On behalf of the Executive Board, ICCJ's General Secretary, and the staff at the Martin Buber House in Heppenheim I wish you all:
A Happy New Year and Shana Tovah 2020!