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B’yadeinu ohr va esh | In our hands are light and fire

It is the eighth and final day of Chanukah, Chag Urim, festival of lights. It is the day after the world comes to grips with the latest horrible spasm in the terrible saga playing out between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinians in Gaza. Gershom Gorenberg of South Jerusalem, always conscious of terrible ironies, shares this:

Last week I received a press release from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel about a sharp increase in child burn victims in the Gaza Strip. This was before the Israeli air campaign began. After what’s happened in the last couple of days, PHR’s email now seems like a message from another historical era, a time so calm that it was a major concern that

“In December alone, 16 Palestinians were hospitalized who were burned while trying to heat their homes. Most of the cases reported to the NGO were of children playing with fire, following attempts to light bonfires for heating and cooking and lighting candles in order to illuminate homes.”

The fires, that is, were the result of the siege of Gaza, which included fuel shortages and power outages. The head of the burn unit at Shifa Hospital in Gaza reported that his unit was collapsing under the strain. I can only guess that Dr. Nafed Abu Shaaban is having a much harder time this week. [read the full post]

This news hits home for me. This weekend I learned that my youngest nephew, a resident of the occupied West Bank, received first and second degree burns after his clothes caught on fire, the result of his grasping for a Chanukiah (chanukah menorah) candle. Everyone is in shock, exhausted, and thanking God that at least he wasn’t wearing a polyester shirt, oy, he was wearing polyester Tzizit. Thank G!d he wasn’t hurt even worse than he was.

For all the negative attention given over to the Cult of Molokh in the Torah, one would think that any fire ritual in Judaism be undertaken with many precautions to preclude even the possibility of fire related injury, especially of children. According to M’lachim Bet (2 Kings 23:10) and Sefer Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah 32:35) the fire ritual of Molokh seems to involve the passage of the first born male child through fire. The Jewish tradition finds it obscene to create situations in which children, any children, are subjected to such danger.

Hatzalah, an international volunteer emergency response organization serving mostly Orthodox Jewish communities provided a safety guide this year to help prevent Chanukah related accidents. It reads

  • Remove curtains or any other flammable objects from the area around the menorah.
  • Keep the menorahs away from the reach of small children and make sure the menorah is on something solid and leveled.
  • Children bring home beautiful projects on Chanukah. If they are flammable, either paste them on the wall or place them away from menorahs.
  • When making latkes, keep ALL children away from the hot oil.
  • Turn frying pan handles away from the edge of the stove and try to use the back burners.
  • House fires tend to occur more often during the winter months. Prepare an escape plan and frequently rehearse it with your family.

It adds this helpful information in small print:

First Aid for Burns – this is for immediate care only.

  • Skin continues to burn for a while after the heat source has been removed. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to begin cooling the burn as soon as possible. A first-degree burn that is left untreated can quickly become a second or third degree burn.
  • Cool a burn by running cold (not freezing) water on the affected area, or by covering the area with a wet towel. When using the towel method, it is important to occasionally re-immerse the towel in cold water as the burn warms the cloth.
  • Burns, regardless of the cause, have to be cooled for a minimum of twenty minutes. The hotter the skin, the longer the cooling process.
  • It is advisable that any burn to an infant, child or the elderly that affects the face, chest, abdomen, or back should be considered an emergency.

This information needs to be more widely disseminated. And if we consider the safety of our children to be a priority and a religious obligation, then we should also find obscene what has been happening to the children of Gaza under Hamas and the past year’s siege.

It’s amazing to me that its easier to find information on fire related injuries to Gazan children than statistics on how often Jewish children are injured due to Chanukah related accidents. I can’t find anything online. I’ll post them on my blog as soon as I can find some.

In the meantime, I pray that we all become mindful of each other’s health and safety, and act accordingly to increase light in all of our communities, to preserve each other against callous disregard and aggression, and find shelter under a common awning of peace. This is my humble and sad wish on the last day of Chanukah.

We come to chase the dark away
In our hands are light and fire
Each individual light is small
But together the light is mighty.
Flee, darkness and night
Flee, before the light.

About Aharon N. Varady


Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes . He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words. If you find my work helpful to your own or you'd simply like to support me, please consider donating via my Patreon account.

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