Jewish Journal

Shining Lights in the Darkness

by Susan Esther Barnes

December 19, 2012 | 7:00 am

On Friday night last week, the seventh night of Chanukah, dozens of families arrived at our synagogue, each with a chanukiah (Chanukah menorah or candelabra) and a box of candles. The chanukiot were set up on long tables in the middle of the overflowing sanctuary, where the light blazed forth with glorious abandon.

It is no secret why Chanukah happens at this time of year, as the days become the shortest of the year and the nights become the longest. It is during these darkest days that we most need to be reminded of the light.

On Friday, we also were just beginning the task of mourning the terrible losses that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. How could so many bright little lights be extinguished all at once? What light could possibly guide us out of this kind of darkness?

Coincidentally, or not, on this Friday night two men, Richard and Marty, were scheduled to speak to the congregation as part of a new custom. Once a month, a speaker tells us about an “olam haba” moment in their lives – a moment in which they received a taste of the world to come.

Into this darkness, their faces lit by a multitude of candles, Richard and Marty stepped forward to tell us about the day they met. “We were just young men looking for a fun night out,” they told us, “Neither of us was looking for a relationship. But the moment our eyes met, without either of us speaking a word, we knew we were meant to be together.”

They met on a Saturday night. By Tuesday, they had moved in together. Two days later, they opened the same joint checking account that they still use today, almost 40 years later. They wanted to get married, but when they met in 1975, even making love to each other was a criminal act according to California law.

But they stayed together, and when, briefly, same-gender couples were allowed to marry in California in 2008, they knew this was their chance. They weren’t active in a synagogue, but they spoke to one of our rabbis, who performed their marriage, in the sanctuary, under a chuppah, with their friends and family surrounding them. Exactly as it should have been back in 1975.

And somehow, in the process, they became connected to the synagogue. They started attending services. Each of them has since read from the Torah scroll on Saturday mornings. Marty recently joined the Board of Directors. As a result of their involvement, the love and light they have shared with each other for so long is now being shared with our synagogue community.

There is nothing that can erase the darkness of the murder of school children and the adults who served them. But Chanukah, Judaism, Richard and Marty can, and do, provide a shining light in the darkness. They remind us that all is not dark, and sometimes things can be the way they are meant to be, if only we persevere. May we all find a way to be a light shining in the darkness.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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