Hanukkah: celebrating the promise of hope in dark times

Hanukkah: celebrating the promise of hope in dark times


Tonight marks the beginning of Hanukkah, that eight-day celebration when we bring light into the darkness by lighting the menorah each night.

The story of Hanukkah is retold and well known—the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) lead a revolt against the assimilationist forces of Antiochus and the Syrian-Greeks and emerge victorious. When they go to rededicate the ancient Temple—the most sacred site of the Jewish community—they find a small vial of sacred oil to light the Temple lamp (menorah), a light that was meant to burn continuously. As the story goes, there was enough to last for one day only, when lit however it burned for eight days. That provided enough time for new sacred olive oil to be produced.

There are a lot of complications with the story. The sides of the conflict were not clear cut, and it was in many ways an intra-Jewish battle between religious zealots and Greek sympathizers. The story of the oil and the story of the battle appear in different sources and are brought together later. The length of the holiday has as much to do with the 8-day Festival of Sukkot as much as the story of the oil. But told as it is, it provides a powerful narrative of the confluence of divine light and the light of the human spirit.

A question that ran through my mind recently is, what would have happened if they didn’t find any consecrated oil at all? If as tradition teaches, it took eight days to make consecrated oil, then would the Hasmoneans simply had to wait eight days before they could finish dedicating the Temple?

Presumably so. And yet, they did find the small vial, and then rather than wait until more oil was made, a condition in which they could have been assured of a constant flame, they decided to go ahead and light it anyway.

As I have shared in the past, perhaps the miracle of Hanukkah is not that a day’s worth of oil actually burned for eight days, but that the Hasmoneans recognized that they did not have enough, but decided to light it anyway. They knew in that moment that they could not do it all, but they decided to do what they could, hoping that it would be enough.

And that is another way to think about this holiday. The Hasmoneans knew they needed to move beyond the recent past of destruction and desecration. At the same time, they did not know what the future would hold. Thus the lighting of the small vial of oil is an act of being in the present, of doing what one can do right now, with the resources one has in the situation one finds themselves, without certainty about what comes next.

One can imagine each day watching this flame, not knowing whether that day was the day it would finally burn out. A precarious situation that reminds us that each day was a victory, each day a success, each day a step to celebrate.

Presumably on the ninth day, everything would have been back to normal. The lamp in the Temple would have been continuously lit, enough oil would be in store to keep it going, and the community would press on as it had before. The eight days of Hanukkah therefore celebrate the “in between”–the days between destruction and return to normalcy.

And by celebrating these days of “in between,” our tradition teaches that ultimately, they are not the “in between,” but simply, what is. Hanukkah teaches us to celebrate the here and now, the small victories won each day. We hope for a better future, but we also live each day as best we can, nurturing the flame that we have.

In these dark times, it sometimes feels that we can not generate enough light to sustain us. But we know we are never in complete darkness, there is always a small vial of oil, of promise, of hope, even if we don’t see it at first. And no matter what, when we find it, we light it, doing what we can in this moment, on this day, to bring about a new reality.

Rabbi Seth Goldstein serves Temple Beth Hatfiloh and may be reached via his website, Rabbi360.com




About Hanukkah

Chanukah is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and fried foods. The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication,” and is thus named because it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple. Also spelled Hanukkah (or variations of that spelling), the Hebrew word is actually pronounced with a guttural, “kh” sound, kha-nu-kah, not tcha-new-kah. — From Chabad.org

Back in 139 BCE, the Maccabees returned to Jerusalem to liberate it. In the Temple, they built a new altar and made a new menorah. When they wanted to light it, they found they only had enough oil to light it for one day. But that lamp kept burning for eight nights and was considered a miracle. Since then a festival of lights has been celebrated every year to remember the occasion. Candles are lit for eight nights, and families eat foods cooked with oil and exchange presents. — From CBC


Read more or contact the Central Vancouver Island Jewish Community Society in Parksville here



The week in review: new councils make their own first meeting statements

The week in review: new councils make their own first meeting statements

It’s a long and lonely road to the top. George Le Masurier photo


Voters meted out the biggest changes to local government this fall in Courtenay and Comox with a sharp shift toward younger and more progressive councillors. But it’s still the Cumberland Village Council that, so far, has delivered on the progressive agenda.

Mayor Leslie Baird’s crew needed just a couple of meetings to approve two marijuana dispensaries, agree to a prohibition on water bottling and start the ball rolling on a village-wide plastic bag ban.

Of course, Cumberland already had the most functionally progressive council in the Valley, and had only one change after the election — Vickey Brown for Roger Kishi. Courtenay has three new councillors and Comox has four.

— Kudos to Comox Councillor Patrick McKenna for casting the lone vote against awarding council members what many will see as a pay increase. It’s not, of course. The increase merely covers the loss of tax-exempt status on council expenses. And the remuneration for elected officials wasn’t overly generous to begin with.

But the optics were bad. Whoever decided to put that decision on the table at the new councils’ first meeting, did the disservice of putting them all in a bad position.

— No one ever doubted that funding for the $125 million water-filtering plant would materialize. It’s being built as a result of government (Island Health) mandated standards and, environmental cynics would say, because of provincial policies that allowed logging practices in the Comox Lake watershed that caused most of the turbidity problems in the first place.

Still, the $63.9 million for the project announced this week was comforting. The feds threw in $34.3 and the province gave $28.6 million, $7.5 million of which goes to the K’omoks First Nations. Comox Valley taxpayers will buck up the balance of $54.9.

And for that $125 million about half of Comox Valley residents get no more boil-water advisories. The other half will continue to drink from their wells and other water sources.

— What a difference a year or so makes. The Mack Laing Heritage Society asked Comox Council to put a tarp on the roof of Shakesides, the famous naturalists last home on Comox Bay back in April of of 2017 and never got a formal reply. The issue was never even brought to council for a vote.

But the new council (four new, three incumbents) discussed and approved the request at its very first meeting. What changed? Did the three who served on the previous council suddenly get religion? Or, did they and certain staff members just realize the majority of four new council members had no interest in playing the “I can’t hear you game” with Shakesides supporters?

Whatever the reason, the council did the right thing. Until the court rules on the town’s petition to alter a generous man’s gift to his community or some other way forward is adopted, the building in Mack Laing Park must be protected.

— Who doesn’t want to live in a community where the City Council bikes to its meetings? Well maybe the Comox Valley Taxpayer’s Alliance. But many of us do.

Yeah, we know, it was nothing more than a PR stunt hastily arranged when Courtenay council members gathered at a downtown bike shop and rode together to their first council meeting. And, yet, it meant something important. It represented an attitude and a vision for how this council will address transportation and related issues. 

City councillors aren’t all going to bike to every council meeting. They just took an opportunity to make a simple, positive statement. Now they need to back up that message with policy.

— Overheard at the Comox public input session regarding the Comox Valley Sewer System redesign, which primarily serves Courtenay and Comox residents …

“Know why Courtenay should pay the full cost of odour control measures at the treatment plant? Because in Comox, our s–t doesn’t stink.”

Comox Valley rental rates are “severely unaffordable”

Comox Valley rental rates are “severely unaffordable”

File photo


Rents in the Comox valley are officially “severely unaffordable,” according to the Canadian Rental Housing Index. The designation is based on 66 percent of household income spent on rent and utilities. The Campbell River area is rated a 58 percent.

The Canadian target is for not more than 30 percent of household income spent on rent.

But vacancy rates have remained nearly unchanged over last year. The Courtenay-Comox Valley region has a 0.7 percent vacancy rate, according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Campbell River has a 0.4 percent vacancy rate.

CMHC says British Columbia’s overall vacancy rate of 1.4 percent (up from 1.3 percent last year) is the lowest in the nation.

Comox Valley speaks out about how to move and treat our poop

Comox Valley speaks out about how to move and treat our poop

Photo by George Le Masurier


Considering the potential property tax implications and long-term environmental impacts of reimagining the Comox Valley Sewer System, there was relatively small group of people at the first of two public consultation workshops.

About 30 people came out to hear Kris La Rose, senior manager of water/wastewater services at the Comox Valley Regional District, describe the process for redesigning the sewerage system to meet the needs of a growing population and a changing climate for the next 50 years.

At least a third of the audience at the Sannd Trap Bar N Grill at the Comox Golf Club were residents of Area B and Courtenay. Comox Mayor Russ Arnott and councillors Ken Grant and Maureen Swift also attended.

People can also provide input through an online version of the survey completed by workshop participants.

The Comox Valley Sewer Service (CVSS) serves the City of Courtenay, Town of Comox, K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox. Residents of Area A, B and C rural electoral areas manage their own wastewater with about 10,000 private septic systems.

La Rose said a new Liquid Waste Management Plan is needed to decide three issues: how best to move sewage to the treatment plant on Brent Road, in Area B; What level of treatment should be applied; and, whether the plan should include resource recovery — reclaiming water for purposes such as irrigation purposes or recharging aquifers.

Separate Public Advisory and Technical committees will consider public input in their deliberations and ultimate recommendations to the Sewage Commission, which will make a decision next summer.

A new plan is necessary for several reasons. The main sewer pipe, called the forcemain, that moves wastewater from the main pump stations to the treatment plant, is 36 years old. It runs through the K’omoks Estuary, under Comox Harbour and Goose Spit, then along the beach below the Willemar Bluffs at Point Holmes before turning inland a short distance to the plant at the end of Brent Road.

Rip rap installed to halt erosion of the bluffs has changed the beach and exposed a section of the forcemain, which a study last year showed was in serviceable condition for the short-term, but still presents a long-term risk. More frequent and intense winter storms put all sections of the forcemain in the foreshore at risk.

The system’s major pump stations are also operating at capacity and need to be upgraded. Expectations have changed about how sewage should be treated and the cleanliness of the effluent discharged into the Strait of Georgia.

A previous plan to replace only the Willemar Bluffs section of the forcemain and build a new pump station in Area B that would continue to receive wastewater pumped through the estuary and harbour was abandoned last year.

The cost had been underestimated by 50 percent and would have created a single point of failure for the whole system. It also had the potential to put shallow wells in the Croteau Beach neighborhood at risk. The CVRD was able to press pause and rethink a more comprehensive plan because with the forcemain in better condition than previously thought, there was less urgency.

La Rose said the plan would also consider treatment upgrade, mostly because the current plant reaches its capacity during major winter rainfalls. Stormwater infiltrates the system and boosts volumes by nearly 4 times over summer levels.

Finally, the plan will consider ways to extract resource benefits from the treatment process. Other communities treat the wastewater to a quality enabling its use for irrigation of farms and golf courses, or to reinject water back into the ground.

Some communities clean the water to potable standards, and flow it back into their drinking water systems.

The workshop was repeated in Courtenay, and there will be further opportunities for public input in the coming months.




Courtenay — Primary treatment at lagoon near airpark. Discharged into estuary, and would overflow, releasing raw sewage into the estuary.

Comox — Discharged untreated sewage into estuary via pipe that crossed Goose Spit toward Denman Island.

CFB Comox — Primary treatment at a lagoon near the YQQ airport. Discharged into the Queen’s Ditch, which ran at a shallow decline and emptied offshore at Point Holmes.



Advanced Primary Treatment — The use of special additives to raw wastewater to cause flocculation or clumping to help settling
before the primary treatment such as screening.

Dewatered Sludge Cake — The sludge after dewatering that is cake like, compressed. The lower the water content the better
for wastewater treatment purposes.

Digestion — The breaking down of sludge and other waste biologically by microorganisms. Results in byproducts such as methane gas, carbon dioxide, sludge solids and water. Aerobic digestion requires oxygen, anaerobic digestion the absence of oxygen.

Effluent — The final output flow of a wastewater treatment plant.

Flocculation — The process whereby a chemical or other substance is added to wastewater to trap or attract the particulate suspended solids into clusters or clumps of floc or flocculent, wooly looking masses.

Influent Screens — Screens used to remove large inorganic solids from the waste stream.

Natural Systems — Wastewater treatment systems usually biological with a minimum of mechanical components or processes, for example, constructed wetlands.

Primary Wastewater Treatment — The first process usually associated with municipal wastewater treatment to remove the large
inorganic solids and settle out sand and grit.

Reclaimed Water — Reusable wastewater from wastewater treatment such as tertiary treatment of wastewater in biological and other systems.

Secondary Wastewater Treatment — Second biological process of digestion with bacteria

Sewerage — A system of sewers; the removal of waste materials by means of a sewer system.
Tertiary Treatment — The use of filtration to remove microscopic particles from wastewater that has already been
treated to a Secondary Level. Anthracite coal is the filter medium used by the MWWD.

Turbidity — A measure of how clear water is in Nephelometric Turbidity Unit (NTU), invisible to the average naked eye until readings in excess of 100 are reached, typically determined by shining light through a sample placed in a turbidimeter.

Ultraviolet Disinfection (UV) — The use of ultraviolet light to kills bacteria and other microorganisms in water and wastewater.
Typically a final treatment step.

Wastewater — Wastewater is “used” water, the water leftover after its use in numerous application such as industrial, agricultural, municipal, domestic and on.

Can green innovations stop polluted stormwater from killing our waters?

Can green innovations stop polluted stormwater from killing our waters?

Grasses ready to plant in the rain gardens that line Courtenay’s Fifth Street renovation. George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

First in a series

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans slapped a ban on both personal and commercial shellfish harvesting throughout Baynes Sound this week because Sunday’s heavy rainfall, which came “after a prolonged dry spell,” will “adversely affect marine water quality.”

It’s a regular notice the DFO issues around most urbanized regions of Vancouver Island this time of year, and it usually lasts for more than a few days.

Why? Because every time it rains after a dry period, it’s as if a giant toilet flushes animal feces, fertilizers, pesticides, oils, road salts, heavy metals and other contaminants into our municipal stormwater systems, which in turn send torrents of polluted water directly into our watersheds, killing fish, eroding property and making our waters unsafe for shellfish harvesting.

This is not a new problem. For the past 100 years, urban development has replaced natural vegetated land with impervious surfaces like roads and parking lots. This has diminished the amount of rainwater absorbed into the ground and reduced the dispersal of precipitation back into the atmosphere from trees, which do the heavy lifting, and other plants, via a process called evapotranspiration.

As a result, surface runoff has become the primary means of rainwater drainage.

To control flooding, Comox Valley municipalities, like other local governments around the world, invested millions of dollars over time in underground infrastructure to channel rainwater runoff into rivers or streams. This not only polluted these waterways and killed wildlife, but the increased volume and speed of the moving water caused erosion and other flooding risks by altering the natural hydrologic cycle.

Even today, when streams get in the way of development, they are often diverted into pipes and buried beneath buildings and parking lots, which greatly increases the flow rate of stormwater and is more likely to cause erosion in a stream’s natural sections.

Comox’s Golf Creek is a prime example. Eighty-six percent of the once flourishing natural stream flowing into Comox Harbor has been buried beneath residential streets, the Comox Mall and the Berwick Retirement Community. It’s polluted after heavy rains and a downstream property owner is currently suing the town over erosion caused by the creek’s sudden fast flows and large volumes.

Former Comox Department of Fisheries and Oceans Officer Chris Hilliar says the problem with stormwater runoff is just the story of urban development gone wrong.

“Humans have an order to their development process: first we log it, then we farm it, then we pave it,” he told Decafnation. “Fish can get along with forestry, if it’s done right; they can get along with farming, if it’s done right; but, concrete and pavement are killers, a death knell to streams and the aquatic life within them.”

The list of problems caused by contaminated stormwater runoff goes beyond erosion and flooding.

Stormwater runoff is the main reason why many urban streams are devoid of fish or linger on aquatic life-support, and why these streams can pose a public health risk for children who play in them.

Stormwater runoff is the top non-point source of oil from human activity into North America’s oceans, according to the National Research Council. And it has been identified as the source of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that are harming British Columbia’s killer whale population, according to another NRC paper.

“It’s an iterative process. Every municipality is on a continuum of change; modernizing, moving forward with advances in knowledge” — Ryan O’Grady

It sounds like an irreversible situation whose remedy is too expensive to undertake. In a 2012 meeting with the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership, Town of Comox Public Works Superintendent Glenn Westendorp said the municipality was facing about $160 million in unfunded infrastructure liabilities that include fixing and replacing stormwater pipes.

“We know the bill is coming to us down the road and we don’t see the means of paying for it,” Westendorp was quoted as saying in the society’s newsletter.

But a shift in thinking about traditional methods of handling stormwater began to occur during the 1980s and 1990s toward constructing wetlands and ponds to detain rainwater long enough for contaminates to settle out and allow some water to infiltrate back into the ground. This gave hope there was a means of cleaning our streams and extending the life of municipal infrastructure.

Today, there’s been a further shift toward a recognition that nature itself cleans and controls rainwater better than any engineered solution. This new emphasis attempts to imitate nature with pervious surfaces, downspout disconnection, rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs and rainwater harvesting. And the prospects have excited many municipal engineers and environmentalists.

But the wheels of change turn slowly.

“Any change in regulations, such as we’re seeing for stormwater, does not go from 0 to 100 miles per hour,” Ryan O’Grady, Courtenay’s director of engineering services told Decafnation. “It’s an iterative process. Every municipality is on a continuum of change; modernizing, moving forward with advances in knowledge.”

And change also requires elected officials to pass new policies and update bylaws that give municipal staff the authority to require LID and green infrastructure. Without legal regulations, not all developers and property owners will embrace the movement, because these rainwater features take up space that some are loathe to forfeit.

Local governments have made progress

Almost all BC communities now follow a method that measures its organizational capacity for maintaining infrastructure to ensure sustainable service delivery. It’s a framework that Courtenay Chief Administration Officer David Allen helped create in his role as Co-Chair of Asset Management BC.

And Courtenay has launched a pilot project with the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative, which attempts to value a municipalities’ natural assets and is working with the Public Sector Accounting Board to change accounting methods to allow for this approach.

“We are using these methods to develop ways to use a combination of engineered assets and natural assets to replace our existing stormwater and flood management systems,” Allen told Decafnation.

In its recently completed renovation of Fifth Street, the City of Courtenay narrowed the roadway (reducing impervious surface area) and added rain gardens to capture runoff and encourage infiltration. The city plans to develop its first Integrated Stormwater Management Plan in 2019 that could set a new, greener standard for stormwater management in the municipality.

The Town of Comox has developed a Stormwater Management Plan for the North East Comox Neighbourhood — lands near the Comox Airport — that incorporates the latest best practices for low-impact development (LID) and green infrastructure regulations, although these have not yet been made into enforceable bylaws.

Cumberland added bioswales along Bevan and Cumberland roads when they were renovated in 2017, and may include rain gardens in its upcoming downtown redevelopment plan.

Other communities have taken big leaps forward

The City Victoria has created a new utility tax to fund its future cost of maintaining stormwater infrastructure and to encourage residents and developers to adopt green infrastructure and low-impact development designs. In most communities, stormwater infrastructure costs are paid out of general revenue.

Victoria residents are now taxed separately for the stormwater that leaves their property. In other words, the more impervious surfaces  and the fewer onsite mitigations you have, such as rain gardens and rock pits, the more you will pay.

Victoria joined Richmond, BC, and hundreds of other cities across Canada and the world that now expect residents and developers to manage their own rainwater, lessening the burden on municipalities.

It’s the theory behind Chinese landscape architect Kongjian Yu’s “sponge cities” concept, a way to describe the capacity of an urban landscape to absorb rainwater naturally. Major world cities have jumped on the idea. Berlin, Germany, adopted a city-wide Sponge City Strategy in 2017.

Since 2009, Toronto, Ont. has required buildings over 2,000 square metres to have green roofs, which use several layers of soil to grow plants that capture and release rainwater, slowing the rush of water through the city’s stormwater pipes.

The list and variety of innovations for managing stormwater through green infrastructure is long and growing.

Municipalities in the Comox Valley and elsewhere have focused heavily on drinking water and wastewater treatment in the past. But now their attention has turned sharply toward improving how we manage stormwater.

The change may seem to be coming too late for streams, like Golf Creek in Comox, that are almost entirely buried and channelized. But challenging initiatives like the 100-year plan to restore Bowker Creek in Victoria and the campaign to save the Morrision Creek headwaters between Courtenay and Cumberland may someday restore fish in our streams and keep our waters open to shellfish harvesting.




Bioswales — A stormwater conveyance system similar, but larger than a rain garden (see below).

Evaporation — As water is heated by the sun, surface molecules become sufficiently energized to break free of the attractive force binding them together, and then evaporate and rise as invisible vapour in the atmosphere.

Green infrastructure — Any natural or built system that provides ecological benefits and help to maintain pre-development hydrology. It encompasses natural features like streams, wetlands, forests and parks, as well as engineered systems that manage urban runoff.

Groundwater — Subterranean water is held in crack and pore spaces. Depending on the geology, the groundwater can flow to support streams. It can also be tapped by wells. Some groundwater is very old and may have been there for thousands of years.

Hydrologic cycle — The endless circulation of water. From the beginning of time when water first appeared, it has been constant in quantity and continuously in motions. The same water molecules have been transferred time and time again from the oceans and the land into the atmosphere by evaporation, dropped on the land as precipitation and transferred back to the sea by rivers and ground water.

Low-impact development (LID) — The systems and practices that use or mimic natural processes that result in the infiltration, evapotranspiration or use of stormwater in order to protect water quality and associated aquatic habitat.

Percolation — Some of the precipitation and snow melt moves downwards, percolates or infiltrates through cracks, joints and pores in soil and rocks until it reaches the water table where it becomes groundwater.

Precipitation — Rain, snow or hail from clouds. Clouds move around the world, propelled by air currents. For instance, when they rise over a mountain range, they cool, becoming so saturated with water that water begins to fall as, snow or hail, depending on the temperature of the surrounding air.

Rain garden — A miniature wetland in a residential setting, lower than the adjacent grade to collect rainwater from roofs, driveways or streets, thus allowing infiltration into the ground.

Runoff — Excessive rain or snowmelt can produce overland flow to creeks and ditches. Runoff is visible flow of water in rivers, creeks and lakes as the water stored in the basin drains out.

Transpiration — Water vapour is also emitted from plant leaves by a process called transpiration. Ever day an actively growing plant transpires five to 10 times as much water as it can hold at once.

Water table — The level at which water stands in a shallow well.