The story of Chanukah is a beautiful one. Through divine intervention and a string of miracle, a tiny group of Maccabees were able to prevail over the ferocious — and large — Greek army. A jug of oil, only enough to last for one night, lasted for eight. I’ve heard the story countless times starting from the age of three. I sat in sunny, colorful Hebrew School classroom with bright red and blue paintings and massive stacks of shiny new picture books, marveling over the story and its themes. Fast forward a couple of years. I find myself, in this day and age, struggling to find meaning in the story of Chanukah. It feels antiquated. I’ve struggled to find its relevance in our warring world. I envy the days of old, when miracles teemed. I’d forfeit all of my comfort in this world to go back in time and experience the miracles myself. I wish I could trade in our present reality, abounding with bloodshed and tears, for the days of the Maccabees.
Then again, I suppose that the Maccabees must have felt similarly during their times, when they had to hide their faith and Jewish learning from the Greeks. I suppose they too yearned for an awareness — and for miracles — the way I do today. The Maccabees lived in a harsh world, yet they prevailed, and overcame a battle that we still discuss in awe. They were persecuted then, and we are persecuted now. When we sing Hanerot Hallalu on Chanukah, we’re not just praising the days of old; we’re referring to ourselves.
This persecution against our people is far too familiar. Though we do not have to hide our Torahs, our synagogues or our Jewish pride the way the Maccabees did, anti-Semitism is still a reality. It’s word I’ve heard too often, one that is used almost carelessly these days. We’re used to it. We’ve been kicked around continents, regarded as the world’s “unwanted.” We’ve been seeking acceptance from the world for too long. During the Spanish Inquisition Jews were tortured, robbed of their money, and property, eventually forced to flee the land they called their home due to their religion; it happened again in Germany, in Russia, in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. It’s happening today, the same way that it has been happening for thousands of years. In Baghdad, my own grandparents experienced the harsh reality of an anti-Semitic world, and years later, not much has changed.
And yet, we persevere.
Just as the Maccabees remained strong, just as their hope and faith remained intact, so must ours. At the public Menorah lighting in my hometown this week, our community gathered together to celebrate in spite of our fears, in spite of our worries. We are Maccabees in this generation. B’yamim ha’hem b’zman ha’ze. We are living proof of miracles. And if history could talk it would say, “there’s another miracle coming for you too.”