This #TransTuesday we celebrate the last day of Chanukah with Lisa Berg Stanton.
What does Chanukah have to do with being Transgender?
To understand this we must first understand the story of Chanukah. Most of us know that Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where according to legend Jews rose up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. The legend tells that there was only enough oil in the temple to last for 1 night while the community worked to restore the temple, but instead the oil miraculously lasted for 8 nights.
What not everyone connects to is the timeline leading up to the Maccabean revolt, that the Hellenists attempted to force the Jews to assimilate and give up their Judaism. Many Jews chose to assimilate and take up Hellenistic customs and dress, even forgoing in some cases the covenant of Brit Milah (circumcision). One sect of Jews resisted this oppression and maintained their traditions, performing rituals and traditions in secret or fleeing to the hills to live their lives in the expression of their true identity as Jews. This small group of resistors we able to band together and successfully overthrow the Hellenist regime.
This is the spirit in which Chanukah most resonates for me. The spirit of freedom of expression, living authentically, and bringing light where there is only darkness. Too many Trans people have lived in fear of being their authentic selves, they face rejection not just from society but often from their own families and loved ones. I think back to what it must have felt like for Jews during this time period fearing reprisal from the Greeks or back to my grandmother’s childhood in Hungry before she was taken to Auschwitz- I imagine how difficult life must have been for them, not having the freedom to be who they are! Then I realize what it must be like for Trans children, forcing themselves to conform to societal gender constraints, the terror they must feel at being discovered or the consequences they would face for being their true selves.
That is why we in the LGBT and Ally community must resist pressures to submit to societal or political pressures to conform, we must demand the right to be who we are, and to be proud of who we are! A basic tenant of Judaism is that we are all created B’tzelem Elohim – in g-ds image, each of us imbued with the holiness of g-d. It is this basic principle which also teaches us to embrace diversity and to see the divine spark in each and every human. This rainbow of diversity is so aptly represented by our Pride Flag. Similarly, on Chanukah we have the symbol of the Chanukah Menorah, it is tradition and we are told by the Rabbis to light our Hannukiyot in the windows of our homes to publicize the holiday, to show our pride, and most of all to bring light in to the darkness. My hope as I light the candles this year is that we can all shine light, where there is none, that each of us can see the beauty in the rainbow of diversity, and that we all have the freedom to proudly express who we are!