Hanukkah is the holiday of freedom, both religious and national. It is based on the fight against the Seleucid Greeks of Assyria (Antiochus) and its attack on Judaism, specifically the polluting of The Temple of Jerusalem by putting up a statue of Zeus, the ban on circumcision as well as the quest for political independence of Israel. This was the beginning of the revolts/wars against the regional and world powers of the time (167-166 B.C.E. ). Judah Maccabee defeated the Seleucid Greeks and established a monarchy; the revolt against Rome in 60 C.E., and finally the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome in 132 C.E. After this final revolt Rome renamed Israel Palestine, and Jerusalem was renamed Aelia Capitolina, in a strategy to destroy Jewish nationalism and Judaism. Hanukkah today has been elevated in observance (because of its proximity to Christmas and New Years Day) as an important holiday to the Jewish People as well as to the non-Jewish world. Much of this new found notoriety has been due to a concentration on the frivolous nature of Hanukkah: spinning the dreidel, singing songs such as “I have a little dreidel,” eating latkes and giving out Hanukkah gelt or gifts to friends and family.
But in the world of today, with Israel besieged by murderous attacks on Jews by Arabs; the BDS(1) movement gaining worldwide momentum in its demoniziation of Israel and the Jews; Iran’s assured development of an A bomb; ISIS, Hamas, Al Qaida as well as other threats against Israel, particularly of Jews in Europe, and most distressing of all, the negative change of attitude of countries and groups to Israel—Hanukkah bears a much greater relevance. Hanukkah, although a minor holiday not mentioned in the Torah, has a much deeper meaning. It was the first exercise of Jewish power in a modern sense—fighting for the freedom of the Jewish people in Israel (2). To many Jews, the prospect and use of Jewish power is frightening and an impossible undertaking. How can 14 million Jews, of which 6 million live in Israel, vie with the rest of the world and its 7 billion people? Isn’t it better to remain with a low profile, being pliable and subservient rather than supporting Israel, the Jewish People and Judaism? As the late great screenwriter Ben Hecht remarked to an audience supporting the establishment of Israel in 1947, “I shall speak to it tonight as well as I can. The soul of the Jew is an ancient and complicated business. It has been trained by disaster and calumny to live in caution, to hide itself cozily behind good deeds, to overlook insults, to charm its enemies, and to avoid getting its enemies angrier than they are. Thus hidden, thus full of cunning modesties and suicidal graces, it has remained nevertheless a brave soul—when destinies other than its own are at stake. It has fought and died valorously in defense of every cause but its own. Yes, it has the courage to fight and die for others. But it has hardly the guts even to speak in its own behalf. I know this soul of the Jew because I am part of it.”
Thus today, to many Jews in the US, the most pressing issues are Global Warming, Black Lives Matter, Feminism, Universal Health Care, LGBT rights, the Environment, Islamophobia, et al.,; and not the survival of the Jewish State, Israel. Jewish self-determination and power is a new concept for most Jews in the diaspora. It is a foreign idea that Jews have no experience in. Added to this is a supposedly moral leadership which continues to fight for causes and other battles, but not their own. This is obviously a sign of cowardice disguising itself as high-mindedness, as though this attitude will ameliorate the hatred of their enemies and not show the parochialism of the Jew. History has shown that Jewish indifference— to Israel, Jewish causes, or Jews— will not lessen Jew hatred. In fact it will encourage even more antisemitism (3). The true moral leadership of the Jews, particularly on Hanukkah, should pertain to the basics of Judaism: Deuteronomy 5:1-22 (The Ten Commandments); Leviticus 19:18 (The Golden Rule); Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Isaiah 60:21; Jeremiah 11:5; Jeremiah 30:3; Ezekiel 11:7; Amos 9:15; The Land of Israel is given by G-d to the Jewish People, Exodus 23:9; You shall not oppress the stranger, Deuteronomy 16:18; You shall appoint Judges, and they shall judge the people fairly (4).
To quote Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman philosopher of the sixties,
The Jews are alone in the world. If Israel survives, it will be solely because of Jewish efforts, and Jewish resources. Yet at this moment Israel is our only reliable and unconditional ally. We can rely more on Israel than Israel can rely on us. . . . (It is up to us) to realize how vital the survival of Israel is to America and the West. I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish the holocaust will be upon us.”(5)
We must be strong in our affirmation of support for Israel in these troubled times. To paraphrase Andrew Jackson, “A person in the right is a majority of one.”
(1) BDS–boycott, divesting, and sanctions is a worldwide movement against Israel involving mainstream churches, academia, NGO’s, the European Union, the elites of Europe and others.
(2) Ruth Wisse, Jews and Power, 2007 Encounter Books, New York
(3) Before there was an Israel, Jews were attacked for controlling the media, the banks and the land (Charles Lindbergh, America First, and Protocols of the Elders of Zion
(4) From a letter of John Adams the second President of the US “I will insist the Hebrews (Jews) have contributed more to civilize men than any other nation. . . . They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. . . have influenced the affairs of mankind more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.”
(5) Eric Hoffer 1968