“Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”
David Ben Gurion
Perhaps this line was first uttered in the second century BCE by the Maccabees, following their astonishing victory over the Seleucid Greeks and rededication of the Temple. Or perhaps Ben Gurion was simply giving voice to the flame of optimism that enables Jews to find something positive even in terrible times.
As we conclude the celebration of Hanukkah, this is the perfect time — actually this is a necessary time — to take note and find hope where we can.
I have chosen eight points of light to honor the eight nights of Hanukkah. While they may not all qualify as bonafide miracles, I believe that they embody the optimistic spirit Ben Gurion had in mind.
Old Wine in New Bottles: Would you like to sip the wine that King David drank? Well, now you can. Israeli winemaker and wine researcher, Elyashiv Drori, and his team “set out to discover what happened to the native wine grapes mentioned in the Talmud.” After collecting and analyzing hundreds of wild grapevines, they found more than sixty previously unknown varieties. The wines made from these “new-old” grapes match descriptions of wine found in ancient rabbinic literature. These nearly extinct species of wine from biblical times have been brought back to life.
Giving Sight to the Blind: Imagine clipping a tiny device to your glasses, and when you raise your index finger, it reads text, identifies people, and recognizes products when you shop. These are just a few of the functions of the Israeli invention, OrCam, a “smart camera” designed to help people who are blind or visually impaired. How much independence does OrCam make possible? Watch this video and see for yourself.
Ingathering of Exiles: “Is it time for the Jews to leave Europe?” Jeffrey Goldberg asked in this extensively researched piece published in The Atlantic magazine earlier this year. Some Jews are saying “yes.” “The number of olim from France is rising; more than 7,000 French Jews have made ‘aliyah’ [immigrated to Israel] so far in 2015, a 10% increase compared to last year.” Some 32,000 Jews have come home to Israel between Rosh Hashanah 2014 and Rosh Hashanah 2015. Yes, there is anti-Semitism. But we have a homeland to go to. That is everything.
Defying the Haters: Bon Jovi, Kanye West, Art Garfunkel, and the Backstreet Boys are just a few of the artists who performed in Israel this year, their presence a resounding “Hell, NO!” to those who call for boycotting the Jewish state.
This, from the Vatican: This past week, the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews issued a document affirming that salvation is available to Jews without belief in Jesus Christ. The Church should not seek to convert Jews and should work in partnership with Jews to fight anti-Semitism. As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark Nostra Aetate declaration and the actions that followed it, we must acknowledge the enormity of the document issued just a few days ago. Reconciliation is possible when both parties make it happen.
The Bravest Reformers: Where are the moderate Muslim reformers? Here. The Muslim Reform Movement has crafted a Declaration of Muslim Reform, based on universal human rights and secular governance. It was announced by a gathering of Muslim scholars and activists on December 4th in Washington, DC. The principles of this declaration should resonate with every person who believes that religions and cultures can change. The movement’s leaders seek endorsement of their declaration from Muslim leaders and mosques worldwide. No one should underestimate the courage of these leaders and the challenges they face.
Be Fruitful and Multiply: Hold a moments-old baby in your arms and you’ll get a mega-jolt of the Divine. Our family felt that three times this summer, as we welcomed new grandchildren. In Israel there were 168,000 such moments.
The “Everyday” Miracle: The past few months in Israel have been very hard. Nearly every day there is another stabbing, shooting or car ramming carried out against innocent Israelis by Palestinians indoctrinated in Jew-hatred. Nonetheless, life goes on as normally as possible. I saw that for myself as I walked around Jerusalem last month.
Courage isn’t making fear go away. Courage is coping and carrying on in spite of the fear. When you see what a remarkable country Israel is, even with it’s many challenges, well if you can’t see a miracle when it’s right in front of you…grab an OrCam, raise a finger, point it east, and listen!