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A Hanukkah Message From Publisher Daniel May

Dear reader,

We hope you are finding time to gather with friends and loved ones during these difficult days. We’re grateful to be a part of your community, and, as we did last year, we want to celebrate Hanukkah by introducing you to some of the writers, editors, and organizational staff who make Jewish Currents what it is. Each night, you’ll meet a different member of our team, who will reflect on work they found particularly meaningful from the last year.

The support of this staff is only made possible through the generosity of you, our readers. We don’t take advertisements or have an angel-investor, and we make all our work accessible to all. So it’s your engagement and support that makes the labor of our writers, editors, artists, and fact-checkers possible, and allows us to continue exploring the issues and questions most vital to you. We’re proud to shine a light on the people behind Jewish Currents, to share with you who and what you are supporting when you read, listen, donate, and subscribe to our magazine.

I’m Daniel May, the publisher of Jewish Currents. In the week after October 7th, our staff was consumed by intense outrage and sadness and grief—about Hamas’s mass killing, about how that killing would be mobilized to justify killing on a much greater scale in Gaza. Many of us hungered for a form that could hold some of the anger and sorrow that was spilling out in staff calls, Slack conversations, and Twitter arguments. We knew we were far from alone in our distress.

I talked with Arielle Angel, our editor-in-chief, about what Jewish Currents could offer in this context of communal anguish. We felt called to host a gathering, but we sensed that the usual forms our events take—webinars, lectures, panels—were insufficient to meet the moment. We landed on convening a series of text studies, hoping that we might now lean on a centuries-old Jewish practice for processing and interpreting the most difficult of questions. We reached out to Jewish Currents contributor Raphael Magarik, a gifted teacher and scholar, who proposed a session entitled “The Uses and Abuses of Grief.” We scheduled the first event for the following week in Chicago and then, after that quickly filled to capacity, we scheduled another for the next week in New York.

I arrived at the Poetry Project space in lower Manhattan just as the teaching was beginning. Raffi—who had somehow managed to learn everyone’s names in the half hour of shmoozing preceding the study—led us through texts from The Book of Samuel, the Shulchan Arukh, the Babylonian Talmud, Judith Butler, and Maimonides, virtuosically facilitating a conversation among the 125 attendees with the intimacy of a seminar. There was disagreement and provocation. There was also a great warmth, as we came together to seek solace in text and in the shared experience of learning.

On the subway ride home, I found myself continuing to turn over Maimonides’s reflections on the laws of mourning. “Anyone who does not mourn as the sages instructed, behold that person is cruel,” Maimonides writes. “Rather, a person should fear, worry, rummage through their actions and repent. And if one of a band of people died, the whole band should worry.” The text provokes many questions: How do the sages instruct? Why is a failure to mourn correctly cruel? Who constitutes one’s “band of people”? But the question I have most lingered on in the weeks since is: Why should a mourner repent?

I reflected on my own experience of grief. One of the most painful aspects of mourning, I’ve found, is the regret it often provokes: the conversations never had, the truths never shared, the wounds never repaired—and, in some cases, regret at actions not taken that might have prevented death from coming too soon.

Over these past months, I have found that arguments about the political meaning of public grief —as vital and perhaps inevitable as they are—have too often eclipsed the deeper space for repentance, and reflection on what might have avoided all this carnage. I’m grateful that our recently launched membership program will give us many future opportunities to create these kinds of spaces, to hold gatherings like the one we hosted with Raffi. On this last night of Hanukkah, I invite you all to become Jewish Currents members, to join with this community as we come together toward a world of lesser sorrow, and (hopefully) greater joy.

To continue producing insightful and challenging work like that mentioned above, we rely on our supporters and subscribers. Please consider sustaining our work by making a donation, becoming a member, or subscribing to Jewish Currents today. Our subscriptions also make great gifts.

As a small token of our appreciation for our community of readers and contributors, we are also offering newsletter subscribers 30% off of anything in our online store if you use the code GELT2023. Shop Jewish Currents gifts—including our new line of merch!—for your friends and family, or to treat yourself.

Thank you for your continued support. We wish you a restorative and meaningful holiday season.