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To Ascend Does Not Mean to Not Speak

April Baskin at a Black Lives Matter Hanukkah Action, December 2014. Courtesy of Jordyn Rozensky Photography.

This Hanukkah, I decided to create a holiday blessing of my own––one that draws from Jewish law and Hasidic folk history, while also incorporating contemporary Judaism's call to affirm the lives of women who have been hidden from history.

My blessing references the halachic requirement to add a new candle and thereby, increase the sanctity of the candle light during each night of Hanukkah. (BT Shabbos 21b) That commandment is woven together with imagery from a Ashkenazic tale of prisoners, who create a makeshift menorah from the individual strings on their uniforms, clogs and shoe polish in Bergen Belsen (Eliach 13-15).

The blessing then moves beyond these sources of Jewish tradition to explore contemporary ideas of self and belonging. Here, lights are not only legally mandated but existentially necessary. For, when all Jews are welcomed exactly as they are, they create a vibrant, inclusive, and ever-changing People thateffervescently breathes life into each other, lights the world, and perpetuates the community.

I hope you will recite these words of blessing, and as you do so, recall valiant Jewish women, whose stories deserve to be heard and seen.

To these exceptional Jewish women, who trust in the inner lights inside themselves while drawing on the life forces of their ancestors, in particular, April Baskin, who lives these words and changes the world with her own, I dedicate the following:


To ascend does not mean to not speak
Of the dead and the dying
And the insidiousness of silence that stamps out women in the realm of the living.

And to ascend does not mean to pour oil over the living dead
Of anointing our joy over our starvation
And the draping of miracles over Jewish lives lost and
perhaps even Jewish lives that have not been acknowledged as fully Jewish.

Rather, to ascend means to sanctify
to break free of the ordinary
And with the rising of light
And the intensity of our life
To fulfill the mitzvah of a mounting enkindling

Such that when each candle is lit.
We go up with it.
And as we bring each of our selves around the light.
The sparks of ourselves make the mitzvah.

Oh Light Maker
and light bringers.
May we wrap the law and the light in the blessing of our lives.

And may the holiness of who we are
Fulfill on the words of our sages “Ma’alin b’Kodesh v’Lo Moridin.”

The height of the flame ever-climbs
in the light of a Jewish life that, in spite of not-Life, keeps on living.

Topics: Hanukkah
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How to cite this page

Spier,. "To Ascend Does Not Mean to Not Speak." 18 December 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 11, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/to-ascend-does-not-mean-to-not-speak>.

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