Occupy Chanukah…

by tobybee

Some of us who are involved in Occupy Melbourne (myself, Tal Slome, and Max Kaiser) organised an Occupy Chanukah event for last Tuesday night (as mentioned below). About 25 people came,  both Jews and non-Jews, and we did some readings and had some interesting discussions, said the relevant prayers, lit our decolonisation Chanukah candles from Narrow Bridge Candles, and ate some delicious ponchkas.

The three of us who organised the event put together a couple of things: a readings booklet, (which was a collection of previously published writings from the interwebs, and some bits that we wrote ourselves) which we read through as a group, each person reading a small section as we moved around the circle; and a sheet with the relevant prayers and a few Chanukah recipes from around the world. In the readings, we wrote, in part:

Thoughts on the Maccabees and their push for Jewish homogeneity…

We have a sense now that, after rededicating the Second Temple, the Maccabees fought to create a Jewish community that was homogenous and not in any way ‘Hellenized’. That is, they worked for an idea of Judaism and Jewish identity which would be ‘pure’. But as we stand here today, in the space of the Occupy Movement, at Occupy Melbourne, we purposely stand in solidarity with others. And in order to do so, we embrace an idea of Jewish identity which is diasporic: that is cosmopolitan, and stands in common, in solidarity, with other movements for liberation (and liberation from what, and towards what, must be a common question).

We take an idea of diasporism that is multiple, not singular, and that embraces both Chanukah and Occupy Melbourne, from Jewish writers such as John Docker, who lives in Canberra and who wrote that diaspora is ‘a sense of belonging to more than one history, to more than one time and place, more than one past and future. Diaspora suggests belonging to both here and there, now and then. Diaspora suggests the omnipresent weight of pain of displacement from a land or society, of being an outsider in a new one. Diaspora suggests both lack and excess of loss and separation, yet also the possibility of new adventures of identity and the continued imagining of unconquerable countries of the mind.’

We take an idea of belonging that means that we challenge the idea – perpetuated by many within the Jewish community and without, historically (such as by the Maccabees), and today – that standing alongside others amongst whom we live, and sharing cultures with them, is inherently bad, and we avow, alongside Ella Shohat, who writes from New York (via Iraq), that we will not allow ourselves to be defined as exclusively Jewish, ‘as [inherently] closer to other [Jews] than to the cultures of which [we] have been a part.’ We at Occupy Chanukah reject the idea that ethnic, racial, religious purity is superior to hybridity, or to internal difference. We also avow that forced assimilation – the pressuring of marginalised groups to conform, which is all too common in this country today – must be fought against. We stand in solidarity with those many Jews throughout history, including in the Chanukah story, who have fought against those rulers, and social pressures, which instructed Jews (and others) to conform.

And so we remember this moment in Jewish history here, at Occupy Melbourne, in order to write it anew into the history books.

For as we have seen, Chanukah has undergone many transitions of history.

So we remember this Jewish moment to remember a Jewish identity and to remember the legacy of resilience that past Jews have bequeathed us; to remember the ways in which Jewish resistance has been variously played out; to remember the beauty and creativity of forms of Jewish longevity.  But also to remember that we are a marginalised people, and that we stand with other marginalised peoples; to remember that the condition of being marginalised is, in the end, quite ordinary, and for so many an everyday affair. And that to be subjected to state-based violence is everyday, and is built into the system as it currently stands; to be subjected to material and discursive, or physical and oral violence, is, for many of us, an everyday affair.

photo credit: Sharne Vate

Here is the Occupy Chanukah at Occupy Melbourne program and the Occupy Chanukah prayer/song/recipe info, so feel free to have a read and use them (or bits of them) in any future Chanukah events you organise…

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