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A Declaration of Interdependence: Hanukkah is a Feast of Solutions

2017 is coming to a close—a year of staggering political debacles further catalyzing human and ecological catastrophes. Our kakistocracy (a system of government which is run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens) is the script for every SNL episode, while Black Friday and Cyber-Monday feed our consumer-addicted frenzy. Yet, many of us refuse to be deceived; we refuse to buy into the illusion that our actions do not directly impact others. Instead, many of us are celebrating a kind of Declaration of Interdependence. Food, and its role in ritual, offers the perfect literal and metaphoric symbol of our global interconnectedness.

Traditionally, Hanukkah has been taught as a religious and cultural symbol of overcoming persecution and overwhelming odds, of the underdog persevering and overthrowing tyranny. The lesson of Hanukkah that I am suggesting we consider for 2017 and beyond is to stop pointing our fingers at Agribusiness, Big Pharma, the Fossil Fuel Industry. Rather than continuing to internalize that we, 99%, are victims of the 1%, instead, I suggest that we can refocus our language and our behavior on our own agency and how it impacts our global interdependency. Collectively and individually, we can take responsibility for our consumer habits. Rather than depleting our energy as we demonize corporate power (we already know how vile it is), what if we were to look at possibilities of change in our own lives? Model for ourselves, our children, our communities what it means to live an ethical, socially, ecologically conscious daily life—what Paul Hawken calls a “feast of solutions, of possibilities”? I suggest that commitment would honor our history of the Hanukkah miracle.

The story of Hanukkah tells us that when we act together, a seemingly powerless, small group of people can actually overcome seemingly intractable adversities. By placing our lit menorahs on our windowsills to be seen by all, we demonstrate how individual and social bodies are intricately bound together. This kind of Jewish practice demonstrates how the personal is political, how living our individual ethics can be used to heal the earth from our self-induced global climate crisis. This practice could include buying fair trade Hanukkah Gelt (rather than feeding our children child-slavery-produced chocolate, “Slavery a Global Investigation” https://vimeo.com/39383629, http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/117569/gelt-without-guilt), organic apples and potatoes (rather than those that are proven to be acutely toxic from multiple pesticide saturation, http://www.beyondpesticides.org/programs/center-for-community-pesticide-and-alternatives-information/pesticide-free-holidays/hanukkah), and instead of buying more STUFF, offering tzedakah, such as contributions to Heifer International (https://www.heifer.org/) or Organization for Bat Conservation (https://www.batconservation.org/).

I ask:

  • Given our cultural epidemic of entitlement and obsessive accumulation, how can we embody the lessons of the Sefirotic Tree of Life; how can we animate the Kabbalah (the ways we are all mutually interconnected) as a model and resource for compassionate living?
  • Social and emotional intelligence (EQ) are primary contemporary educational philosophies. How can we develop spiritual intelligence—an ever-evolving practice of Torah that reconfigures our most vital relationships?
  • How can we transform habitual behavior through a commitment to interfaith relations founded in an embodied recognition of Jewish awareness and practice?
  • How can we integrate Jewish tenets such as bal tashchit, do not destroy or waste, as a commitment to empathy and compassion—in which awareness motivates action in our daily lives?
  • Embedded in Tloot Hadadit radikali, radical interdependency, how can we recalibrate our normalized relationship to consumption/disposal habits that we know harm our children and children around the world?
  • How can citizen-activists embody symbiotic solutions as we transition from our petroleum-pharmaceutical-addicted cyber-culture to an interfaith social permaculture—one that inspires, educates, and mobilizes peoples of diverse religious backgrounds?
  • Investigating practices that integrate the civic and sacred as a commitment to interfaith eco-dialogue and collaborative action, how can we manifest engagement, wonder, and moderation we learn from Jewish traditions including, the laws of Sh’mitah, the Sabbatical years and Yovel, the Jubilee years: generosity and agriculture, including gleaning, eco-kashrut practices, restoring balance to the land, forgiving debt, and multiple interpretations of fertility?

We can explore many of these answers through Jewish and Islamic practices: tikkun olam (repairing our world), Pirkei Avot (collective healing through Jewish ecological values and ethical teachings), Sephardi histories of convivencia (interfaith coexistence), Orthodox practices of musar (individual behavioral ideals—striving to live an ethical life), and the Islamic moral construct of adab (creatively living one’s deepest values). Reflecting “May your innards rejoice in foods whose seeds are righteous,” Talmud Bavli: B’rachot 17a (Kol Haneshamah), the main characters’ prayers in Zazu Dreams call for Kabbalistic interconnected righteousness:

We prayed to our revered tzaddik for an end to profit-driven biocide; we prayed for an end to the monoculture of the mind;232 we prayed for ecological intelligence to help us figure out how to encourage people to connect the dots between environmental justice and human rights, and act together to stop the suffering of people whose lands and water are poisoned and stolen; we prayed for a transition from a global extraction economy to a global regenerative economy… (Cara Judea Alhadeff, Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era, 60).

As Executive Director of Jews Of The Earth (JOTE) and as a Sephardic writer/activist/mother focusing on social justice and ecological consequences, I suggest that each of us explore how malnourished and displaced peoples are intricately connected with impoverished soils and seas—the consequences of consumerism. We can then unravel our own physical and spiritual malnourishment—working collaboratively to ignite justice and a sense of wonder in our everyday lives.

Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era | http://zazudreams.com/ | $39.99 + shipping

About Cara Alhadeff

Cara Judea Alhadeff, Ph.D., Executive Director of Jews Of The Earth (JOTE); author of Viscous Expectations: Justice, Vulnerability, The Ob-scene (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014) and Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era (Eifrig Publishing, 2017). www.carajudea.com; www.zazudreams.com

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