On Shabbat Chanukah in 1993, I celebrated my bat mitzvah and gave a speech about my haftorah, centered around the verse, “not by might, not by power, but by spirit.” At the time, I discussed the fact that I had led a group of concerned citizens in my community to speak out against a racist ballroom dancing school that had operated in our city for generations. Though we were a small group taking on a longstanding business, known and cherished by many, we were successful in forcing them to change their discriminatory policies and be more inclusive. They had money, power, and influence, but we had strong values of justice propelling us forward.
This experience and the lessons I learned as a 12-year-old have carried me forward into a career as a professional activist and changemaker. In my role as CEO of Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta, a small but mighty organization taking on systemic issues of gender inequity and inequality, I have seen many parallels to my earliest days as a community organizer. Change cannot happen overnight, but, as we continue chipping away and disrupting systems, I know we will eventually look back and realize how far we have come. One step at a time, eyes on the prize: justice and equality.
This is the message of Chanukah, how a small group of committed people can make a difference, even when facing a giant army or seemingly immovable obstacle. I was born three weeks late, so my birthday was never even supposed to be on Chanukah. And yet, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting haftorah portion for me.
Rachel Wasserman is CEO of Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta.