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    Hanukkah Brings Light and Warmth to December

    By Howard M. Steiermann–

    The lyrics to “Let It Snow” start out: “Oh the weather outside is frightful.” Growing up, I didn’t mind Chicago’s snowy, frosty winters, although I still shiver whenever I recall scraping the ice off my dad’s car.

    I moved to San Francisco 30 years ago from Chicago. One might then think that I would not be affected by San Francisco’s mild winters, yet I am. Thankfully, I have little need for long underwear and thick down coats piled over sweaters. What does affect me is how early the sun sets, and the resulting shortened days and long dark nights. I find myself hesitating to venture out in the darkness.

    I wonder whether I am particularly prone to shying away from darkness due to feeling unsafe. It has been years since I’ve checked under the bed for monsters. But growing up and knowing I was different, I had to guard against my peers, figuring out I wasn’t like them. (Even though I didn’t realize until my 30s it was due to being gay.) Darkness equaled vulnerability to me. Vulnerability meant I could be hurt.

    I am not alone in being negatively affected by the change in seasons. The medical community has titled it Seasonal Affective Disorder, which results in the oh so appropriate acronym SAD. Many cultures and religions have incorporated lights to counterbalance winter’s darkness. Countless rituals include the lighting of candles, accounting for the fact that one third of U.S. candle sales occur during the December holidays. 

    I always figured it was the eight days of presents that made me enjoy Hanukkah. Now I understand that it was also the candle lighting ritual of the holiday. The candles we light, starting with one on the first night and adding another candle each night, bring physical as well as metaphorical warmth into my life.

    The word Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah) translates to “dedication.” The Temple was rededicated after Jews fought to pray again in their desecrated sacred space. As a child, I was taught that we light candles for eight days because the oil found in the Temple, which should have lasted for only one day, instead lasted for eight.

    A small group of Jews stood up to those in power. Hanukkah celebrates this victory of the underdog versus the powerful. Hanukkah highlights and celebrates the difficulty of maintaining our true and full identities against the easier path of assimilation to the mainstream.

    Rabbi Cheryl Peretz gives additional meaning to the Hanukkah story. She taught:

    “Each night’s candle will burn until all that is left is the small wick of flames desperately trying to continue to revive itself as it starts to burn low. And, inevitably, sad as it may be, it will eventually burn out. And, what will we do? The next night, and each night thereafter, we will not only relight that candle, but we will also add more light to the menorah, increasing the light shining from our homes.

    We know all too well that the task of shining light into the world is as challenging today as it was (during the time of the Temple rededication). Lighting the Hanukkah menorah invites us to ignite the flames of our own souls, to find the spark that cannot be extinguished, that can burn not just for eight days, but for the entire year. As the light of our menorah burns, our internal light must also be kindled in the fight against darkness of evil, assimilation, and indifference. The menorah reminds us of the miracle that no matter how dark life may be, hope and faith can inspire a source of light deep within each of us.”

    During these times of darkness, I remember that each night an extra helper candle is used to light the other candles. This reminds me that we all need assistance in letting our own unique light shine. By lighting lights during darkness, we bring much needed illumination to help shine the way to our goals. Let us rededicate ourselves to who and what are important to us.

    By not giving in to the impulse to retreat from the darkness, we can actively work to make the world a better place. Our country seems quite fractured. I hope the realities around gender, race and economic inequality are finally being heard by those in power, and those with privilege. 

    To give us strength as we approach the Winter Solstice when daylight is at its shortest, here are two fun Hanukkah festivities sponsored by and/or for the LGBT community:

    Sha’ar Zahav’s Third Annual Hanukkah in the Castro

    Wednesday, Dec 13 (second night of Hanukkah)

    6:00 pm

    Jane Warner Plaza at Castro & Market Street

    Light candles, sing, spin the giant dreidel, eat sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and dance! Congregation Sha’ar Zahav is teaming up with Castro Merchants again to host this fun-filled evening to celebrate light and community. Bring your own menorah (BYOM)!


    HanuCON – Your Big Queer Hanukkah Party

    Saturday, Dec 16 

    Doors open at 6:00 pm

    Oasis Nightclub – 298 11th St., San Francisco

    $10 Ticket – General Admission

    $25 Ticket – Includes a latke with a shot of vodka

    We’ll have latkes, vodkas and a mishmash of folks. The first 50 people in the door get their very own blue and white hat. This will be an evening of community hosted by the infamous faux queen Miss Shugana (reigning Grand Duchess of San Francisco) in conjunction with Keshet, the National Jewish LGBT Organization, and Sha’ar Zahav. The candle lighting will be led by Rabbi Copeland.

    And for hoop fans:  

    Jewish Heritage Night with the Golden State Warriors!

    The Bay Area Jewish community will be out in full force on Thursday, December 14, when the Warriors take on the Dallas Mavericks on the third night of Hanukkah. The doors open at 6:00 pm, and tip-off is at 7:30 pm.

    Each Jewish Heritage Night ticket holder will receive a commemorative Warriors menorah at the event. Ticket holders are also invited to a special post-game Menorah Lighting Celebration and Q&A with Warriors forward Omri Casspi, the first Israeli-born player to appear in the NBA!

    Howard M. Steiermann is an Ordained Ritual Facilitator based in San Francisco. For more information, please visit