“Hanukkah is all about lights, the Festival of Lights, and to us it was important to use that symbolism to shine a light on these issues.”
By Haley Frederick
Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
It starts with the lighting of the menorah.
There’s a humble but passionate group of about 40 people gathered in front of 3000 Sidney St., the local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office, for Bend the Arc’s Shining Light into Darkness event on Wednesday evening.
Bend the Arc Pittsburgh, the local affiliate of the national progressive Jewish partnership, joined together with local immigrant groups like Casa San Jose and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), as well as allies like the Thomas Merton Center, to demand that Congress reject any national budget that funds the wall, aggressive deportations and deadly immigration jails.
Their frozen fingers fumble as they light the candles. It’s the fourth night of Hanukkah. Four candles are lit and the singing begins. Modified lyrics from the Hanukkah song “Mi Yimalel (Who Can Retell?)” become the evening’s refrain.
“Mi Yimalel…Who can retell…We will retell…Defund hate,” the group chants in unison.
“Hanukkah as a holiday is all about lights, the Festival of Lights, and to us it was important to use that symbolism to shine a light on these issues and show that no matter what is said or what policies are proposed, that is not going to drive us apart,” Jonathan Mayo, volunteer leader of Bend the Arc Pittsburgh, tells the Current.
Each of the four candles has been dedicated to a topic that the speakers address. The first candle is the border wall, the second is ICE, the third is for family detention and separation, and the fourth is hate speech and white nationalism.
After the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting on October 27, hate speech and the rhetoric of those in the White House was a major area of focus.
“After the shootings took place in our neighborhood here in Squirrel Hill, it was really a direct line for us from hate speech and a rhetoric of lies and racism and xenophobia to the policies that are being put forth by this administration,” Mayo says. “And we know that there’s a small amount of time before a budget is voted on before the house flips, so this is in many ways the President’s best chance to ram a budget through that would over-fund morally bankrupt agencies like ICE and fund things like a border wall which most people in this country don’t see a need for and is also amoral in many ways.”
Guillermo Perez from LCLAA speaks under the fourth topic, hate speech and white nationalism.
“The normalization of hate is a key goal of the white nationalist movement,” he says. “We must resist and we must call the efforts out wherever we see them.”
Perez encourages the crowd to go support and share a petition that calls on the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership to cut ties with the Colcom Foundation, who sponsored the Pittsburgh Holiday Market. According to the petition, the Colcom Foundation is a major funder of some of the leading anti-immigrant groups in the U.S.
The crowd’s enthusiastic applause is muffled by their mittens and gloves. After all the speakers finish, each person in the crowd illuminates an LED light they were handed earlier in the night, shining light into darkness.
They join together in another song, this time it’s “This Little Light of Mine.”
“We need to hold these people in these institutions accountable for deliberately writing policy to bar non-white folks from entering the country,” says Krystle Knight, community organizer for the Thomas Merton Center.
“It was powerful for Bend the Arc to relate the really tragic events that have been happening right now and use their voices from their moral and religious perspective to shine light on the immorality of what’s happening to immigrant youth and the adults who are trying to flee violence themselves.”