We celebrate Hanukkah during the Northern Hemisphere’s darkest time of the year. Amidst this darkness, I am fortunate to be surrounded by an abundance of light. This light shines most brightly when I read stories of young people who are building a better world despite seemingly impossible odds stacked against them. Youth are my wellspring of hope. And so I want to introduce you to just one remarkable young person who is adding light to the world, and whom I plan to honor this Hanukkah.
Earlier this year, on International Women’s Day, 17 year old Neeraj Gurjar stood before hundreds of women in her village in Western India. Her voice thundered through the microphone: “The moment I hear the words ‘Women’s Day,’ I feel happy that this is our day! But then a question rises like a thorn in my mind…Is only one day for us? Will we celebrate just one day a year until the time we get equal opportunities, education, and freedom? Are we not going to get all of this every day of our lives?”
Shortly afterwards, having completed a grassroots journalism course run by an organization that American Jewish World Service supports, Neeraj traveled to Alwar, a rural community in Rajasthan. Until recently, not a single girl there was able to pursue higher education because of social norms that force adolescent girls into early marriages. Today, because of the work of an organization called Alwar Mewat Integrated Education Development (AMIED), 264 local girls are attending college.
In a recent blog, Neeraj beautifully captures the power of AMIED’s impact by sharing the stories of some of the girls in that community. Each story adds more light to my world. And in the spirit of Hanukkah, I’m going to dedicate a candle this year to these courageous young women, who are beacons of light themselves. I hope you will consider lighting a candle in their honor, too.