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Chanukah: 8 Days of Action

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow


The first night of Chanukah comes at the time of the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, when the sun is at its darkest and the night at its longest.


It is during this time of darkness that we kindle a growing array of lights. Likewise, as we face the darkness of the current environmental crisis on our planet, it’s also the time to bring the power of our light to bear.


There are three levels of wisdom through which Chanukah invites us to address the planetary dangers of the global climate crisis (a crisis some of us call “global scorching,” since “warming” sounds so pleasant and comforting). These are the deep teachings of Chanukah:

  • The Talmud’s legend about the one day of oil that miraculously met eight days of need is a reminder that if we have the courage to change our lifestyles to conserve energy, the miracle of our own creativity will sustain us.
  • The prophet Zechariah, whose visionary passages we read on Shabbat Chanukah, described the Temple menorah itself as a living being, uniting the worlds of nature and humanity. The menorah was not only fashioned in the shape of a Tree of Light, as the Torah teaches, but it was flanked by two olive trees that fed olive oil directly into it — truly a green menorah!
  • We remember that a community of the powerless can overcome a great empire. The memory of the Maccabees’ victory over the elephantine Hellenistic Syrian Empire can give us courage to face our modern corporate empires of oil and coal when they defile our most sacred Temple: Earth itself.


On each of Chanukah’s eight days, commit to taking personal, communal and political action¬ to protect the Earth from the global climate crisis. After lighting your menorah each evening, dedicate yourself to making the changes in your life that will allow our limited sources of energy to last for as long as they’re needed, with minimal impact on our climate.


Day 1: Choose today, or one other day this week, to avoid using your car at all. The rest of the week, drive less by carpooling and clustering errands into one trip.


Day 2: Call your electric-power utility and ask to switch to wind-powered electricity. For the average home, switching to 100-percent wind power for one year reduces carbon-dioxide emissions by the same amount as if you reduced your car travel by 20,000 miles.


Day 3: Urge your congregation and community organizations to switch to wind-powered rather than coal-powered electricity.


Day 4: Call on newspaper editors, real-estate developers, architects, bankers and other community leaders to strengthen the green factor in all of their decisions and actions.


Day 5: Ask the top officials at your workplace or school to conduct an energy audit (your utility company may offer one for free or at low cost).


Day 6: Petition municipal officials to require greening of buildings through ordinances and executive orders. Creating change is often easier on the local level.


Day 7: Lobby state legislators to reduce subsidies for highways and increase them for mass transit. In states where fossil-fuel companies are using hydraulic fracturing (a potentially environmentally destructive way of obtaining natural gas embedded in shale rock), demand a moratorium until we can get full information on what chemicals the gas and oil companies are using to shatter the shale, and the subsequent effects on our freshwater supply.


Day 8: Urge your senators and members of Congress to strengthen the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions from coal-burning plants, oil refineries and vehicles. Not only would reducing these emissions help our planet's climate, but it also would lessen pollution-related asthma outbreaks among our children.  It’s true that no single individual or action will solve the global climate crisis. Yet acting together, a small group of people can overcome a seemingly intractable crisis, and — as in days of old — turn this time of darkness into one of light.




Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center. He is also the author of numerous books, including Torah of the Earth: Exploring 4,000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought.

This piece is part of the Jewish Energy Guide, published in partnership with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.




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- Genesis 2:15

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