Hanukkah: Oil for Light or Oil for Profit?

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Hanukkah: Oil for Light or Oil for Profit?

By Arthur Waskow

The likelihood is growing that US oil and gasoline prices are going to be very painful this winter. (For the most recent information, see p. 1, NYTimes, 9/11/00.)

This memo is aimed at suggesting that Jewish activists, rabbis, & teachers begin planning NOW to address these issues at Hanukkah.

High oil/gasoline prices will raise serious social-justice questions, especially for —

(a) those who heat their homes with oil (but natural-gas prices are also climbing in synch);

(b) those who depend on autos for transportation and business; and

(c) those who will be affected as businesses have to pay higher fuel costs and either raise prices or clamp down on workers, to protect their profits.

They will also raise serious environmental-policy questions, in more subtle ways.

(a) Some environmentalists may, taking a short-range view, be happy if high gasoline prices lead to reduced use of autos. But — those prices are beefing up the Big Oil companies, not helping to build mass transit or bikeways.

From the longer-range perspective of more economic & political power for those Big Oil companies, those high prices are going to hurt the earth, not heal it.

(b) Yet the high prices may at least make it possible to raise questions about the dependence of this society on oil & gasoline.

So Hanukkah time (first candle: evening of Thursday, Dec 21; Sunday, the third day of Hanukkah, is Dec 24) may be a perfect time for Jewish environmental and social-justice activists to raise major questions about the Global Gobble of Big Oil and other global corporations.

Hanukkah not only comes at the right time; it celebrates —

(a) the rhythms of the sun/moon/earth as they dance with each other (while addiction to gasoline over-use damages the rhythms of the earth);

(b) creating new light at the darkest moment of the year, new hope in the midst of despair (as against succumbing to the apathy of "what can we accomplish anyway?");

(c) successful resistance to an overwhelmingly powerful empire (in our era, the oil/auto/highway complex) by a small, creative people (in our era, creative activists advancing the banner of decentralized renewable energy sources);

(d) a renewable source of energy, miraculous olive oil that lasts far longer than expected — and gives new "light" — enlightenment— in the process.

What is a reasonable alternative policy that we could set forth at Hanukkah?&nbsp—

For example, what about proposing emergency excess-profits taxes on oil companies, with the proceeds going —

(a) in the immediate emergency to subsidize oil and gasoline costs for middle-to-lower income people?

(b) in the longer run, to increase use of renewable energy, conservation, mass transit, bikeways, walk-to-work neighborhoods, etc.

Are you willing to organize events in your own community to address this problem?

Such events might include —

  • a public candle-lighting vigil at Big Oil company offices;
  • a Hanukkah candle-lighting/ teach-in that dedicates one candle to learning about oil, one candle to learning about global scorching, one candle to learning about the costs of warm homes for the poor and the middle class; one candle to learning about Maccabeean resistance (ancient & contemporary); etc.
  • a letter-writing Hanukkah party with latkes and candle-lighting, combined with writing letters to the editor, Members of Congress, etc. abiout high oil and gasoline prices.

Please let The Shalom Center know your own thoughts about this possible crisis and our possible responses. Write Shalomctr@aol.com.

Watch our Shalom Center Website for updates on ideas and actions.

Thanks & shalom,
(Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director, The Shalom Center)

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