Lighting the way for food justice: Honouring Chanukkah by taking action

Like so many holidays, Chanukkah commemorates the victory of a small and passionate group over a larger oppressing force. King Antiochus IV persecuted the Jewish people in the second century BCE, destroying their places of worship and killing anyone who was found practising. A modest revolutionary group, led by Mattathias and his son Judah Maccabee, rose up and defeated the wicked king. As they sought to rededicate their Temple, they only found enough oil to keep their sacred candle lit for one day, but miraculously it burned for eight whole days.

While many of us get to spend the holidays enjoying family and friends, making delicious treats, and exchanging gifts, it’s also a time to share what we have with those who have not been able to access the same opportunities. During our festivals of light, we reflect on the societal injustices that we are working to expose and fight against, and which ones we still need to bring out of the shadows.

One of Canada’s most shameful legacies relates to how it has treated Indigenous people, from colonization through the residential school system and to today’s disproportionate inequalities in food access. Urban Indigenous households are twice as likely as other Canadian households to experience food insecurity, and in Northern communities, up to 70% of people are food insecure. The comforts we may experience this season come at the expense of others’ basic needs. But we can do something about that.

On each night of Chanukkah, my family lights the candles, eats latkes (potato pancakes), giggles with my toddler as she learns to spin the dreidel (the small four-sided top), and yes, we do delight in seeing the joy on the faces of our loved ones when they open our gifts. We also dedicate each of the eight nights to AWARENESS, ACTION, and ADVOCACY on an issue that’s important to us. On the first night this year, I spread AWARNESS of our time in North Spirit Lake where in spite of reconciliation efforts, I saw the reality of the difficulties that many face in accessing affordable, nutritious food. My family decided together to take ACTION by donating to ensure that communities who want edible gardens and critical food literacy can receive it. We also signed on to ADVOCATE and Say Yes to Good Food in Schools.

By reclaiming their Temple and rituals so many centuries ago, brave leaders were recommitting themselves to what they held most dear. This Chanukkah – and whole holiday season – let’s rededicate ourselves to the values that we place at the centre of how we want to live our lives, and act in a way that will create real change in the upcoming year.

Happy Channukah,
Mira Lyonblum

*Also spelled Hanukkah, Channuka, or really any way one can transliterate the Hebrew word חנוכה