Shining our light in trying times

A time for faith traditions to unite in common purpose

OUR SPIRITUAL TRADITIONS teach us that even in the most trying of times, an eternal light shines through and guides us towards building a more just and compassionate society.

Thanks to our brilliant, industrious researchers and scientists, the first shots of the coronavirus vaccine campaign in this country are now being administered. Still, America and the world has been shaken this past year by the devastating and far-reaching impacts of a global health crisis that knows no boundaries. Battered, weary, tired and at times divided, we’ve tested our ability to treat each other with dignity and respect, exposing substantial cracks in our social fabric. But, as the artist-prophet Leonard Cohen taught us, the cracks are “how the light gets in.”

In the midst of the holiday season, it has become custom for our nation, so steeped in cultural and religious traditions, to reflect on the past year and to celebrate our faiths. Like so many religions, our Jewish and Christian traditions remind us of the most powerful symbolism that connects us all: light. In the Jewish tradition, we recently celebrated Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, commemorating the miracle of the oil that fueled the menorah for eight days in the Holy Temple. We light the Hanukkah candles, adding one candle each night to ensure that we lift ourselves higher and higher and bring more light to our homes and to the world precisely during the darkest time of year. Similarly, during the four Sundays preceding Christmas, Catholics light a candle on the Advent wreath to symbolize the four virtues of hope, love, joy, and peace; it is a reminder to Christians of the light that Jesus brings to the world.

This simple universal spiritual message of light endures and is now more relevant than ever. Since the beginning of the pandemic, churches and synagogues, Bible studies and religious schools have adapted, and joined together, to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of people in Greater Boston hungry for connection and meaning. Our traditions also provide us all with a calling to stand together and shine our light, often through painful cracks, to create a better society for all.

We believe shining light is a responsibility we all share, individually and collectively across all of our organizations. Both Combined Jewish Philanthropies and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston have created partnerships to help immigrants and asylum seekers facing deportation and family separation at our borders access shelter and legal assistance. With 1 in 7 people now worried about feeding their families in Massachusetts, CJP and CCAB are bolstering our partnership to help provide families with life’s basic necessities: food, shelter, and living assistance made more urgent by the pandemic. Sometimes, it takes a crisis to remind us that together, we can achieve more.

Over the past year, we have been inspired by the ways members of our communities have shone their light through extraordinary generosity of spirit, time, and philanthropic resources. The overwhelming desire to help is heartwarming, gives us faith in our Greater Boston community, and hope for a more compassionate and caring humanity.

It is during a crisis when we also should reinforce our efforts to build diverse, welcoming, and compassionate communities. In reaching out to those who seek meaning and connection during this time of great isolation and polarization, we must all strive to develop our empathy for those who see the world differently than we do.

May we keep showing up, stepping up, and engaging – with the civic, cultural, and spiritual communities and organizations that form the social and moral fabric of our lives — to build a just and compassionate society rooted in the dignity of all people. May we keep giving – whatever we are able – from a place of empathy, generosity, compassion, and love.  May we remember — that as a society we will be judged by how we care for those less fortunate than we.

Meet the Author
Meet the Author
We are the inheritors of the spiritual fortitude of those who have come before us, and together, we can find the courage, resiliency, and hope to light the way for 2021 and beyond.

Rabbi Marc Baker is president and CEO of Combined Jewish Philanthropies. Kevin MacKenzie is CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.