12/06/2013 10:38 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2014

Nelson Mandela, the Flame of Hope

When a light goes out, another one should be lit. How else can we make it through this darkness?

With the death of Nelson Mandela, a light has most certainly been extinguished, but hopefully the illumination of his incredible life, will inspire others to carry on the important work of social justice.

Mandela's humanism went far beyond his own people and his own country. He spoke to the heart of all people who dream of universal equality and the evolution of human spirit.

Several years ago, while living in London, I picked up a sugar packet the waitress had left with my café. I was thrilled. On one side it spelled out Sugar, on the other, a little drawing of Mr. Mandela. Later I would collect one that had an image of Martin Luther King. I never found one of Elvis, Lennon, or Princess Diana... only these two Princes of Peace.

Today I was to have an appointment at Goles which stands for Good Old Lower East Side and has stood for this neighborhood for a very long time indeed. They were to help me with a landlord problem as they have many times in the past. As I prepared to go to my meeting, the phone rang and the counselor, who was to see me, told me she couldn't make our appointment. She was too stressed out from an incident which had occurred in the office the day before. Apparently a homeless man went into the office without an appointment, was very aggressive and demanded an apartment. According to my counselor, everyone was thrown off. Because of the way we live now, they weren't even sure the man wasn't carrying a gun. It was very unsettling and the counselor needed a day to absorb the drama and had to cancel our appointment.

Just as she told me this story, two book shelves literally jumped off the wall; the fixtures having become loose with books falling all over the place. It seemed symbolic to me. What with genocide in Central Africa, wars in almost every part of the world, hunger and depression amongst the 99 percent here -- things are definitely tumbling. I read that there is solid job growth and as someone working in Christmas sales, I see lots of money being spent. But really not for most of the people. It is hard times. But is it possible that instead of becoming harder ourselves, we could soften our hearts? Could we look at the poor homeless man who terrorized people as being in real terror himself?

Chanukah comes to an end this week. It is the holiday of extending and holding the light. Mr. Mandela did just that in his lifetime. Perhaps he has passed the torch to all of us who admired his life. It would be a privilege and duty to keep this flame of social justice burning.