Chanukah and Its Promise of Peace

This is an auspicious time of year.  The days are short, but they are intense.  The cold sharpens our senses and our shadows are longer, reminding us of our existence and the possibilities of who we could grow to be.

The holidays packed into the end of the secular year also infuse the days with more moments of reflection.  I recently attended a class with Rabbi Sam Shor which connected many aspects of this holiday season: gratitude, hope, tradition, and peace.

Chanukah, the festival of lights, comes each year when the days are short and filled with darkness.  We light a candle each night for 8 nights, gradually bringing more and more light to the world. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said, “a little light of truth can push the darkness away,” and in that sense, each light of Chanukah represents adding truth to the world.

As children, we learned the miracle of Chanukah took place following the desecration of the temple by the Greeks.  The Jews who returned to the holy temple could not find enough oil to light the menorah. They found only one jar of oil which miraculously lasted 8 nights.  We commemorate this miracle each year with Chanukah, which means “dedication,” as a remembrance of the rededication of the temple after its defilement.

In the telling and re-telling of the Chanukah story, we look past the little jar of oil, but in doing so, we miss an incredible connection…

Thousands of years earlier, God created a flood which destroyed the world.  After the rain abated, Noah sent a dove from the ark to search for a sign that the flood was over.  The dove returned with an olive branch in its beak, signaling the end of the floods and a promise from God that humanity would never again be destroyed.  What happened to this olive branch? According to Midrashic sources, Noah’s family pressed the olives from the olive branch into oil. And this tiny amount of oil, carefully preserved in a single cruse, is the very oil which the Jews used following the desecration of the temple to light the menorah.

The miracle of the oil is not only the miracle of time in which the oil lasted eight days.  In addition, it is a miracle of tradition and connection: the Jews preserved a symbol of a covenant of peace between humanity and God, and used its fruits to rededicate their holy temple and their commitment to God.

These have been terrifying and sobering days for the Jewish people in the United States, with the brutal killing of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh in a synagogue on the Sabbath.  In the days following, there were many demonstrations of unity and strength from within the Jewish community and with other faiths and communities. But there have also been an uptick in antisemitic acts of vandalism and violence.

Westerbork, Holland, Candle lighting on the seventh night of Hanukkah (c) Yad Vashem



Chanukah is our reminder that even in the darkest moments, we can add light to the world.  The very first celebration of Chanukah emitted light that was imbued with the promise of peace.  This holiday of Chanukah is about rebuilding after destruction, and rebuilding with a commitment to our greater humanity and a dedication to peace.

They say most Jewish holidays can be explained in one phrase: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”  Chanukah is no exception! Even today, evil and darkness in the world try to overpower us and snuff out our light… but it will never succeed.  The light of Chanukah is a reminder that we are inheritors of God’s everlasting promise of peace. As we light our Chanukah candles this year, let’s reconnect to the first lights, and rededicate ourselves to the dove’s promise of humanity and peace in our world.

Making peace with my lists

I am one of those people for whom scratching off an item on my to do list triggers dopamine in my brain.  I am so addicted to this feeling that I have been known to write down an already-completed item just so I can cross it off! 

I love to do lists so much that I have multiple running at any given time. 

I use the Notepad on my iPhone for to-dos and keep a notebook in my purse for shopping lists.  I have a journal for deep thoughts, a journal for daily thoughts related to motherhood, a journal for “regular” daily thoughts, and a purple notebook for work-related aspirations. 

I have an obsession with tracking progress, looking back, evaluating my life, and anticipating the future.  On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this pursuit.  In fact, many mental health professionals advocate journaling as a way to channel feelings, work through challenging emotions, and mark time.  There is something humbling and inspiring about reading past entries as a way to take stock and grow.  But I’m starting to wonder if my list-making and time-marking hobby is helping or hindering me.  

A few weeks ago, my husband came home after a long day at work, and I greeted him sourly. “What’s wrong?” he asked.  “Well,” I said huffily, “Do you know what I did today? I did laundry.  Changed diapers.  Washed dishes.  Changed more diapers.  And nursed about 10 times.  I’m basically a maid!”  I was so frustrated from my day of “nothingness” in which I checked nothing off my to do list.  He looked at me lovingly and said, “You’re not a maid, you’re a mom.”  

That conversation has not prevented me from opening up the Notes app on my phone multiple times a day.  Like the addict I am, I scroll up and down the list, hoping there’s an item I can remove.  The more items I can check off, the better I feel, at least for that moment. 

I desperately want to reach a blank, white space on the Notes app which would indicate that I “did it all.”  But if I did finish the list, I’d be filled with an emptiness and anxiety.  “What am I doing with my life?” I would think.  “How could I be so uninteresting?  So lazy?  So unproductive?”  Without a list, how can I track progress, measure success, and ascribe meaning to my life?

Am I controlling the list or is it controlling me?

Lists in general are helpful.  It’s good to know which items are missing from the pantry when we go to the store.  It’s important to remember to pay the water company or make dinner reservations.  What is less helpful is assigning such weight and value to each item on our lists.  It is demoralizing to check the list each morning and think of it at night, using the tally to measure the day. 

Maybe that’s what my husband was trying to tell me.  I’m not a maid, I’m a mom.  I don’t have to rank my days according to its accomplishments.  I’m not getting a grade for each day’s activities or how quickly I can finish a list.  But, if I do back away from my worn and true method of self-assessment, I’m not sure how I will analyze my days.

Measuring in love is harder to do, since its acts can’t be quantified or qualified.  

I don’t know how easily I’ll be able to rid myself of my notebooks, apps, and journals.  But I am going to try, and at night, as I drift off to sleep, I will count moments of love and connection, rather than the empty spaces on my list.  

DJ Maya

Last weekend, I escaped to Tel Aviv to enjoy some sun and stare at the Mediterranean.  There is nothing more therapeutic than watching waves crash onto the sand.  The rhythm of the water  is good for the soul; the colors of the water are soothing for our brain; the sound of the water is good for our heart.   So I made sure to spend as much time as possible just staring at the sea.

It was one of those picture-postcard moments: gorgeous weather, the Mediterranean before me, and sick beats coming from the DJ booth.

I was really enjoying the music so I turned to give a thumbs up to the DJ… and was happily surprised to see a young woman at the turntables!

She had the biggest grin on her face and was loving life; serving up some sick beats,  laughing, schmoozing, and sipping a cava.  What a rockstar.

I had to say hello and tell her how much I was enjoying the music, the atmosphere, and her vibe.  We struck up a great conversation, and I asked her: “So is this your full time job?”

“No,” she said, “I started doing this on the side when I was still in college.  I love it so I just do it for fun on the weekends.”

“That’s awesome!” I said.  “What did you study in school?”
“Oh, I’m a lawyer,” she said sheepishly, adjusting her graffitied trucker’s cap.

“A lawyer?!” I exclaimed.  “Me too!”  We laughed some more, and I told her how I’m not really lawyer but now I make films, yada yada.  Turns out Maya’s really a lawyer; so legit in fact, that she made me promise not to reveal what kind on this blog.

Two lawyers not lawyering

Are we noticing a theme here?  Maya and her joie de vivre and side hustle made me think of my gal Elle Luna once again.   (See my previous post on The 100 Days Project.)  Elle’s book, The Crossroads of Should and Must, implores us to fill our days with our passions, even if that means living it beyond the 9 to 5.  We can create a reality in which we are living our “must” day in and day out.

Maya exemplifies leaving the “shoulds” behind and relishing in the “musts.”  She’s probably a kickass lawyer, and I’m sure she’s owning that, too; but seeing her hot-pink hat and shiny headphones reminded me that we are more than our paycheck, our inbox, or our stakeholders.  Finding and rejoicing in the musts  gives beauty and color to our lives – and that’s something to celebrate.



100 Days

This past summer, I watched artist and author Elle Luna’s talk about creativity and passion.  In a deep dive, I listened to all her podcasts, followed her on Instagram, and immediately purchased her best-selling book, The Crossroads of Should and Must.   (When I fall, I fall hard!)

Last year, Elle started something new, an online experiment called The 100 Day Project, in which participants are encouraged to create something – anything – everyday for 100 days.   (Hat tip to bestie, Nicole, for the reminder!)  Each day, participants post their work of art on Instagram and a community of creators, dreamers, and doers is born.

April 4th was the kickoff for this year’s project, and I’m grateful to say that I’m right on track with my own act of creativity:  writing everyday for 100 days. 

In less than 2 weeks, I’ve already felt a difference.  I eagerly look forward to posting my daily text, whether it’s a poem, a line of dialogue, a haiku or a brain dump.  I’m reconnecting to the MUST Elle Luna describes in her book, and discarding the SHOULD slowly, slowly.  It feels damn amazing.

Last summer, I read author and psychologist Susan David’s excellent book, Emotional Agility.  Susan also describes the power of writing, a practice which she said healed some of her grief following her father’s death.

And, one of my favorite gurus, Brene Brown, encourages all of us to write a “shitty first draft” when we’re dealing with emotional struggles or everyday challenges in her latest book, Rising Strong.

I could write about writing for hours, but I’ll leave the metaphysical for now and share one more story:  in an interview with 60 Minutes,  Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda described crying as he writes, as he is so deeply connected to his words and aligned with his characters.  I get it; writing is seeing one’s emotions and dreams materialize on a page.  What could be more beautiful than that?


A Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew walk in to an Airbnb

A Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew walk in to an Airbnb.  They make their supper, lounge on the couch, talk about the days’ events, and giggle – a lot.

It’s not the start of a new ABC sitcom, it’s the contents of a beautiful 48 hours last week in Washington, DC.
Every once in awhile, I am overwhelmed by hope and gratitude.  My time on E St NE last week confirmed my deepest conviction: that we can form connections, trust one another, and build a better world, regardless of our faith.
Kelli and me on Capitol Hill to screen Faithkeepers
I was traveling with my wonderful team, Raheel Raza, a Muslim-Pakistani activist and star of my previous film, Honor Diaries, and Kelli Klaus, our social media and outreach manager for my upcoming film Faithkeepers.
Raheel, Kelli, and I came to DC after putting on a Censored Women’s Film Festival event at the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN in NYC.  We held a panel which Raheel and I shared with Sharine Atif, an Egyptian-American filmmaker and Masih Alinejad, an Iranian dissident.
That panel was also an important commentary on what we are told and taught to believe: a Jewish American-Israeli shared a stage with 3 Muslim women.  We shared a joint message of sisterhood, empowerment, and human rights.  Our conversation did not disintegrate into geopolitics, blame, or hatred;
rather, we found much common ground in our (revolutionary?) idea that there is a global sisterhood that should be standing up for one another.
Contrary to popular belief, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, even Zionist Jews (!) can work together toward women’s rights.  We can all be feminists – together – even if we’ve been taught to distrust or malign one another.  We can reject that narrative and focus on the bigger picture – together.
But back to the AirBNB.  Raheel, Kelli, and I tucked into our lovely DC rowhouse.  Raheel heated up her Afghani takeaway, Kelli prepared her Paleo meal, and I relished in my kosher deli.  We shared happy stories from our days of wonder and delight – a tour celebrating human rights and connectivity – and we anticipated the private screening of Faithkeepers on Capitol Hill the following day.  We talked about our families, swapped photos from the previous days, and went over logistics for the next events.

There was no fanfare or even self-awareness; just three women sharing a space and working together with hope, gratitude, and love.

Raheel, Masih, and I present the Censored Women’s Film Festival at the Commission on the Status of Women with other activists and friends