Nelson Mandela died on the 8th day of Hanukah.
That I'll never forget.
One of the brightest lights that burned in the darkness of prison and oppression during the second half of the twentieth century is gone.
There was warning of his death. For days, news feeds would flash on phones and desktops, the digital countdown of a man who was a giant of flesh and blood.
Others more accomplished and knowledgable than I will laud and mourn and eulogize the man.
I just have a small story to tell.
I had first heard of Mandela through the Special A.K.A.'s "Free Nelson Mandela" song from 1984. My friend Steve Dinkin was listening to it as he was winding up his studies in Madison and preparing to head off to the Peace Corps in Niger. For Dinkin, as a Jew growing up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Mandela was the epitome of Moses from the Exodus story. He was the world's most powerful and righteous symbol of the African struggle for freedom and we used to talk a lot about our diverging but complementary Jewish journeys: mine, which would take me to Israel, the rabbinate and serving community; and his, which would take him to Africa, international development, and now, as President of the National Conflict Resolution Center. Deep in Steve's heart burns the flame of freedom, lit by Mandela, Biko, and his own experiences as a young American serving his small town in Niger and now, slowly and painstakingly help resolve conflict in his corner of San Diego.
Yesterday, when walking through the Village for a morning meeting, a shopkeeper put up an iconic picture of Mandela. I figured he must have just died and she read the news, on her phone, before I could read it on mine.
Mandela casting a vote in the 1994 elections in South Africa. An extraordinary moment in the history of the struggle for human rights.
On the 8th day of Hanukah, the light finally burned out. But the Soul of Freedom burns forever.