A Time of Miracles
The long and often sad history of the Jewish people has often given us reason to cry out to God and ask for a miracle. Not every such prayer has been answered positively, but a key to the continuing appeal of Chanukah has always been in the power of a story based in the unlikely triumph of Jewish underdogs, as well as in the story of a light that would not die despite a shortage of oil.
Though our current circumstances are nowhere near as dire as they've been in the past, there is still reason enough to look to heaven and ask for help. With anti-Semitism spreading from the Islamic world into Europe, it's sometimes hard to envision anything short of a miracle stopping the drift toward delegitimization of Israel and Zionism. And with radical regimes like Iran poised to achieve nuclear capability while pledging itself to the annihilation of the Jewish state, optimism seems to be in short supply.
And yet the spirit of the Festival of Lights that begins on Friday compels us not only to look to the future with confidence, but to remind ourselves of our obligations to act.
Though the calendar brings it close to the celebration of Christmas, Chanukah is not a blue-tinsel copy of that holiday. Its essence is not a bland hope for "goodwill toward men" or any other trendy contemporary cause. It is, instead, about the refusal of Jews to bow down to idols of the popular culture of their day — and to continue to fight for survival. It is a reminder that it takes the extraordinary efforts, as well as the faith of ordinary people, to keep the flame of Jewish civilization burning bright in each generation.
Our tradition teaches us that the victory of the Maccabees was ensured by their faith. But in order for that to happen, courageous individuals had to first step forward.
Just as in 165 BCE, each of us today has the capacity to strike a blow for continuity that, while less dramatic than those struck by the sons of Mattathias, will nevertheless be an essential contribution to Jewish history.
Each one of us has the capacity to play a part in Jewish miracles, great and small, both here and in Israel. We can do this by standing up for our home abroad as it continues to suffer attacks from enemies just as committed to its destruction as the Syrian-Greeks were to the extinction of Judaism.
We can also do it by taking part in learning and observance, by supporting Jewish education, and by reaching out to help the Jewish aged and poor who live among us.
With this in mind, from everyone at the Jewish Exponent to all of our readers, a very Happy Chanukah!
Trees and Menorahs
It never fails. Every year at this season, controversy arises about the placement of Christmas trees and Chanukah menorahs. Though the argument is ostensibly about the separation of church and state, what many of these disputes boil down to is a lack of common sense. Such a flap in Seattle about the presence of trees — but a lack of menorahs — at an airport led to the unfortunate decision to get rid of all Christmas decorations to avoid having to cope with the problem posed by menorahs.
Such a result doesn't protect the Constitution as much as it undermines interfaith cooperation and understanding. Public displays of menorahs pose no danger to the separation of church and state. Nor is the sight of a Christmas tree a threat to Jewish rights.
What we need from our leaders at this time of the year is not only a commitment to principle, but the maturity and the sense to know how to live and let live, so that all of us can enjoy our holidays without interference.