By Rabbi John Friedman and Aliza Becker

As we prepare for Chanukah, American Jews have greater hope for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than we have had in years. When the holiday is over, the bilateral negotiations arranged at Annapolis are to begin. It is, indeed, as if a candle has been lit in the darkness.

For eight days every Chanukah, we banish the darkness around us with the light of faith – faith in humanity, faith in our capacity to overcome adversity, and faith in the blessing of peace. We are reminded that our challenges will not be solved by might or power, but by the spirit of tikkun olam, of healing the world.

In that spirit, this year we light candles for Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans who have acted courageously for peace, exemplifying the Chanukah message of light over darkness, the spirit of reconciliation over military might. Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the eternal God (Zechariah).

We encourage you to remember the people we highlight here as you light your candles this year, to discuss them at home and with friends. May our dedication to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be rekindled and burn brightly.

Light one candle for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, and their chief negotiators Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei

All four of these leaders have come far and taken real risks on the road to negotiations. Abbas and Qurei (also known as Abu Mazen and Abu Ala) spent decades promoting resistance as the only solution to their people’s statelessness, but then came out for a two-state solution in the late ’80s. Qurei was the primary Palestinian negotiator at the Oslo talks, which Abbas monitored from Tunis for then-PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Olmert was once a leading member of the expansionist Likud Party, whose platform still declares that “Israel will not allow the establishment of an Arab Palestinian state west of the Jordan River”; Livni’s parents were members of the extreme right-wing Irgun in the pre-state period, and she spent most of her adult life a staunch Likudnik. As is often observed, peace is not made among friends, but enemies; for these former enemies to sit at a table and make an honest effort to acknowledge the reality of the other and put the past behind them required wisdom and courage. We must support them actively, encouraging them to make the promise of Annapolis a reality. As Prime Minister Olmert put it at the conference: “I have no doubt that the reality that was created in our region in 1967 will be changed in a very significant way. It will be as difficult as the netherworld for many of us. But it is inevitable?. We are ready for it.”

Light one candle for the women of the International Women’s Commission for a Just and Sustainable Peace between Israel and Palestine

The IWC came into being as a result of sustained cooperation and dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian feminists beginning with the 1989 international women's peace conference in Brussels, “Give Peace a Chance: Women Speak Out.” Since its founding in 2005, the IWC has worked to advance the discourse surrounding the conflict and called for a strong international role in reviving negotiations. In behind-the-scenes meetings with world leaders and decision-makers, the IWC played an active role in promoting the resumption of negotiations on all permanent settlement issues. It is dedicated to pursuing a just resolution of the conflict, to fully incorporating a gender perspective in the discussions, and to ensuring that women serve in key roles in all of the implementation mechanisms of any peace agreements.

Light one candle for U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Richard G. Lugar (R-IN), and U.S. Representatives Susan Davis (D-CA), Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Charles W. Boustany (R-LA)

This past winter, Rep. Susan Davis introduced a resolution calling for the appointment of a U.S. Middle East peace envoy. This summer, Senators Feinstein and Lugar spearheaded a resolution calling on the Bush Administration to actively engage in peacemaking with the intention of achieving a negotiated, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ultimately gathering more than a third of the Senate (including many Jewish Senators) as co-signers. This fall, Representatives Ackerman and Boustany sent a letter to Secretary of State Rice supporting the Annapolis conference and urging her to commit to “robust, hands-on leadership” in the negotiating process; the letter was signed by 135 Congresspeople. It is efforts like this that demonstrate to the Administration that there is a sea change occurring in how the American people, American Jews in particular, view the conflict and the potential for its resolution. Without such efforts, it is doubtful that much change would take place. And without active American involvement, the peace process stands very little chance of success

Light one candle for Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

Rabbi Kanefsky serves an Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles. In the lead-up to the Annapolis conference, when some in the Jewish community were organizing to protest any discussion of Jerusalem in the course of peace negotiations, Rabbi Kanefsky found himself at odds with much of what he was hearing. “It's not that I would want to see Jerusalem divided,” he wrote in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles in October, “it's rather that the time has come for honesty. Their call to handcuff the government of Israel in this way, their call to deprive it of this negotiating option, reveals that these organizations are not being honest about the situation that we are in, and how it came about. And I cannot support them in this.” Calling for greater honesty and accountability from Zionists and Palestinians alike, Rabbi Kanefsky had the courage to publicly oppose conventional wisdom, a step we often must take on the road to reconciliation. “For many decades,” he concluded, “we have sighed and asked, ‘When will peace come?’ The answer is starkly simple. There will be peace the day after there is truth.”

Light one candle for Bassam Aramin

In January of this year, Palestinian activist Bassam Aramin, co-founder of the Israeli-Palestinian co-existence organization Combatants for Peace, received news to break the heart of any parent: His daughter Abir had been shot by a member of Israel’s Border Guard. Within days, the 10-year-old had died in her hospital bed. Rather than give in to his grief and rage, however, Bassam, with the Israeli men he calls his “brothers”, has continued to advocate for a two-state solution to the conflict. To read Bassam’s remarkable statement, click here.

Light one candle for Israeli and Palestinian protestors who succeeded in their legal challenge to the path of Israel’s Security Barrier near the West Bank village of Bilin

The construction of Israel’s security barrier has been fraught with difficulty for many of the Palestinians who live anywhere near its path. While the Israeli government maintains that the wall is vital to the country’s security needs, critics have pointed out that it often runs far from the internationally recognized border of Israel proper, raising the possibility that the wall is intended also to expand the state’s territory. In many instances it splits villages in two, separating farmers and merchants from their livelihoods and families from each other. Israeli and Palestinian peace activists have carried out ongoing, nonviolent protests, marching regularly to the wall together and filing petitions with the Israeli courts to have the wall moved. In September of this year, the Israeli High Court ruled in favor of the village of Bilin, requiring the state to move the wall and return hundreds of acres to the villagers. To read more about Bilin and the Security Barrier, read here.

Light one candle for the 518 rabbis, cantors and students across the denominational spectrum who joined Brit Tzedek’s call to “Kindle the Lights for Peace”

In anticipation of the Annapolis conference, 518 members of the American Jewish clergy chose to publicly urge our community to take an active stand for peace, demand action from the current President and his successor, and, ultimately, to be true to the belief held by the overwhelming majority of American Jews that a two-state solution is what Israel needs. In the words of John Friedman, chair of Brit Tzedek’s Rabbinic Cabinet, “for the Annapolis talks to become something other than a well-meaning gesture, it is essential that we, as a community, make clear to the current Administration and the one that will succeed it that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is vital to the interests of all those who live in the region, and the American people.” If we are to achieve peace, it will be in part thanks to the exemplary actions of the signers of statements like Brit Tzedek’s Call.

Light one candle for you, the activists of Brit Tzedek

As we consider the prospects for peace in the post-Annapolis world, we must not fail to give ourselves due credit for helping to create the atmosphere that allowed the conference to succeed in launching negotiations. Brit Tzedek activists have worked tirelessly to change the parameters of the discussion through meetings, letters, house parties, personal conversations, participation in grassroots actions, recruitment of our rabbis and cantors to sign the call, on and on and on; we have met with many of the Senators and Representatives who signed on to the Davis, Feinstein-Lugar and Ackerman-Boustany initiatives, and we have consistently told the White House that being pro-Israel means being pro-peace. Congress and the Administration need support from the American Jewish community in order to move forward with efforts toward a peace agreement that creates a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. Every letter we write, every petition we sign, every discussion we host brings us one step closer to achieving that goal. As you light your candles this year, remember to light one for your personal dedication to work for peace.

 Suggestions for Chanukah:

  1. Give Chanukah gelt (a donation) to Brit Tzedek v'Shalom to help us continue with the important work of building a grassroots peace movement among American Jews. Your donation will help Brit Tzedek as it advocates for greater US engagement in the search for a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You might also consider a gift membership as a Chanukah gift. Make a donation.

  2. Give Chanukah gelt to support the important work of Israeli and Palestinian peace groups, as a personal statement or in honor of friends and family.

  3. Note: Combatants for Peace is creating a playground as a living memorial to Abir Aramin on the grounds of her school. The playground was designed by the father of Shimon Katz, who toured with Brit Tzedek last year. You can make a donation for the playground's construction through Rebuilding Alliance.

  4. Engage people at Chanukah parties and other social events in Annapolis-related discussion. What would it take for you to really back the possibility of a final status peace agreement? How can American Jews express our support for serious U.S. engagement to the current administration and the presidential candidates?

  5. Start a conversation about courage and what it takes for people to stand up for and act on their beliefs. Encourage your guests to talk about opportunities they have had to show courage in their own lives, and to discuss people of valor they admire.

Rabbi John Friedman serves as national chair of Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet. He was also the founding chair of the Durham/Chapel Hill chapter of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and serves on its national board.

Friedman has been rabbi of Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, North Carolina for twenty-six years. He was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1976.

Rabbi Friedman attended rabbinical school at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and has visited Israel frequently since. In 1997, he was part of a delegation of rabbis that met with Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah.

Rabbi Friedman attended the University of Kansas, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Harvard University where he was a Charles Merrill Fellow in 1994. He received a doctorate from the Hebrew Union College. His articles on Bible, Jewish literature, Jewish education, and Black-Jewish relations have been published in a variety of journals. Rabbi Friedman is also a trained mediator.

John is married to Dr. Nancy Eisenberg Friedman. Nan is a pediatrician on the faculty of Duke University Medical Center in the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology. John and Nan are the parents of Abigail and Joshua.

Aliza Becker is the deputy director of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom.  A founding member of the organization, she was also Brit Tzedek’s first staff person and provided her home as our national office during the organization’s first two years.

Prior to her work in Brit Tzedek, Aliza administered large-scale immigrant educational programs and published extensively on citizenship and immigrant rights issues. In 2002 the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights honored Aliza with an award for her long-time commitment to immigrant and refugee rights.

Aliza comes from a long family line of activists in the Labor Zionist movement hailing back to the early 1900s, and has a many family members living in Israel.


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