It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. 

Rabbi Yitzchok Bergstein will light the first of eight candles on his menorah on Dec. 7, the first day of Hanukkah. It’s better to light eight candles — by the time Hanukkah is over — than to curse the darkness.

The Chabad Rabbi is going public with what for most Jews is a private, family thing, by setting up 6-foot-high menorahs around the tri-village area. You will be able to see one in Constitution Court, come Dec. 7.

Bergstein encourages all of us to let our lights shine in the darkness many of us are feeling these days by doing mitzvot, i.e. deeds of kindness.

In a way that’s what happened last Saturday at Hope Tabernacle Church when PTMAN (Proviso Township Ministerial Alliance Network) held what they called a Social Momentum Symposium.

Ten social service organizations had representatives at tables explaining to event participants what their nonprofit provided and how they fit into the Proviso Township network of social service providers.

For example, CUHealth ministries was handing out info pages with full color illustrations showing how many teaspoons of sugar are contained in commonly consumed products. The Wayback Inn shared information on their addiction recovery programs in Forest Park, Oak Park, Maywood and Melrose Park.

The King Daughters Ministry issues scholarships to students demonstrating financial need. Zing Health features Medicare Advantage programs. Cook County Health representatives explained that low-income adults may be eligible for health insurance for as little as $10 a month.

Bishop Thomas Clark, director of special events at PTMAN, which is sponsoring the event, said, “There are many residents, organizations, and businesses that are helping make our community a great place to live, work, and play. This Social Momentum Symposium allows us to bring all of them together to network, collaborate, and increase trust, awareness, and communication which can help empower all of the residents with the agency to re-neighbor our neighborhoods.”

“A goal of the event,” said Bishop Clark, “is to bring down silos and better collaborate with one another.”

At its core PTMAN is an organization of Black pastors who believe that “church” doesn’t happen just on Sunday morning but has a mission to “bring the neighbor back to the hood.” At their monthly meetings, representatives from organizations as diverse as District 209, the Maywood Police Department, Cook County Health Department and the Cook County Assessor’s Office share information about what they are doing in their own individual silos but also have a chance to network with each other.

I’ve been attending PTMAN meetings for five years now, and what impresses me is that these ministers do not complain about the suffering of under-served constituents and then wait around for the government to do something.

These Black faith leaders take the initiative to do something themselves. Sometimes it takes the form of education, making church leaders aware of programs that already exist. Sometimes it is creating programs that do not exist. For example, they run a 4x4x4 in which they hook up youth with businesses where they serve as interns for four hours a day, four days a week for four weeks with pay.

When he became aware of the deaths of two Proviso East students by suicide in 2018, Bishop Reginald Saffo, PTMAN’s director, organized a workshop “designed to teach pastors and lay leaders how to detect mental illness triggers and how to adequately refer people through the proper channels for help.”

Saffo’s response to the tragedy exemplifies PTMAN’s sensibility. These are religious leaders who in their congregations respond to issues with prayer but at the same time go out of their religious silos to collaborate with organizations they view as allies in their effort to build the “beloved community.”

“It’s critical,” Saffo explained, “that we embrace the whole ethos of community in these times.”

Healthy religion doesn’t just mirror the culture in which it is embedded. It doesn’t just go with the flow. It speaks with a prophetic, self-critical voice and with actions that walk the talk.

In that regard they are swimming against the current. Well documented in books like Habits of the Heart, Bowling Alone and The Lonely Crowd, our country has been trending toward a culture of non-joiners. 

I have a friend who identities as a Republican, for example, who constantly complains about the direction in which his party is heading, but when I ask if he is working inside the party to change its direction, he answers, “They wouldn’t listen to me.”

The recent gains won by unions reveal the truth expressed in a protest song from the ’60s.

 One man’s hands can’t tear a building down;

 Two man’s hands can’t tear a building down.

 But if two and two and fifty make a million,

 We’ll see that day come ’round.

 We’ll see that day come ’round.