On this the last day of Chanukah, it is appropriate to do what Jews always do, and that is to reflect on how historical events in our past relate to today.
The Maccabees battled the attempt by the Syrian-Greeks to repress the practice of Judaism, a battle that is still being fought. Public expressions and identifiable symbols of the Jewish religion are defaced and vandalized. Jews around the world are attacked and fear for their safety. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations morph into pro-Hamas anti-Israel marches demanding eradication of Jews. Just as the small determined band of Jews fought against the Selucids to their north, who were proxies of the Greek nation, the state of Israel is fighting Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis and the Syrians, proxies of Iran who seek to accomplish their goal to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.
In addition to these parallels, there is another aspect to the story, one we tend to downplay.
Chanukah was not just a battle against the Syrian-Greek Empire and their attempt to deny us from practicing Judaism and the attempt by Antiochus to impose the Greek Seleucid way of life on us.
It was also a battle among Jews for the very soul of the Jewish people.
It was an internal struggle to determine if the forces favoring assimilation and accommodation would win out over those who wanted to maintain Judaism as a unique way of life.
There were Jews, especially those among the wealthy, upper class, including priests, who welcomed the Greek way of life and who enjoyed assimilating into the predominant culture. Their Jewishness was of secondary importance to them and was not central to their identity. They preferred to go to sporting events than to Temple.
When Antiochus IV sought to suppress expressions of Jewish life, and tried to force Jews to publicly eat pork to show their abandonment of Jewish practice, or when he wanted them to bow and sacrifice to the gods worshipped and venerated by the Greeks, a small group among the Jews, led by the priest Matathias and his son Judah and Judah’s brothers and sympathizers rejected his entreaties and revolted against him, and against those Jews who sided with him.
Mattathias not only refused to make a sacrifice to the Greek gods, but he stabbed and killed the Hellenized Jew who stepped forward to do so.
Although within a few generations, the Hasmoneans who became the rulers in Israel succumbed to the very things their ancestors, the Maccabees had opposed, nevertheless, the victory of the Maccabees, stands as a reminder of what we should value and fight for, and of what and who they fought.
As painful as it may be to admit, there are those among us today who, like those opposed by the Maccabees who are on the side of those who work for the demise of Judaism and the Jewish people. I am referring to the small minority of Jews and those fringe Jewish groups who join protests and actions of the antisemites who hate us.
Gil Troy and Natan Sharansky recently wrote, “While everyone likes to like a big tent, every community by definition requires some boundaries. The Hamas horrors on October 7th—and the subsequent reaction—have helped settle the debate and define our big blue-and-white tent generously but unmistakably, welcoming most while clarifying some red lines patriotic Jews refuse to cross.”
A few dozen groups, who despite their Jewish sounding names, such as “Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)” and “IfNotNow,” did not join the 300,000 Jews who turned out to show their support for Israel. Instead the next day they went and disrupted and harassed members of Congress at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee calling for an immediate ceasefire and accusing Israel of all kinds of terrible things. They joined with the avowed enemies of Israel, the Democratic Socialists of America in denouncing Israel as “genocidal” and an apartheid regime.
The time has come for us to recognize and identify, as the Maccabees before us did, who among us stands with the Jewish people, who links their destiny with the rest of us, and who does not, and to disassociate from those who have chosen to stand outside of the community.
Gil Troy and Natan Sharansky labelled them “un-Jews”.
They are being kind. They should be called “anti-Jewish Jews”.
At a time when we are hurting and mourning the loss of over 1,200 among our people who were brutally attacked, when we pray for the release of hostages taken by Hamas, as we are horrified by what terrorists did to women and children, those who do not express sympathy for their fellow Jews, who speak and act insensitively, who partner with enemies of the Jewish people, who oppose the efforts of the Jewish state to protect its population should be ostracized.
Since we cannot patent the word “Jew” or “Jewish” we cannot stop them from using it in their organizations’ names or publicity. But we can call them out for what they are: Anti-Jewish Jews.
Gil and Natan point out that many of these activists who wear tallitot and blow shofars at their rallies justify their actions by pointing out that they are children of rabbis and Jewish day-school graduates. We should not allow their use of Jewish symbols to disguise the harm they do to the community.
Those who disassociate themselves from the Jewish people and from the sense of Jewish peoplehood, are like the wicked child of the Passover Haggadah who excludes himself from the community. They go against the very essence of what it means to be a Jew, especially in a post-Holocaust world, where more than half of our people live in the state of Israel.
When Max Berger, formerly of JStreet, and founder of IfNotNow tells Time Magazine, “It’s hard to think of Israel as something good, because we’ve only known it as a place where bad things happen and things keep getting worse,” he forfeits the right to speak as a Jew. When George Soros gives millions of dollars to groups opposed to the existence of the Jewish state, he forfeits the right to speak as a Jew. When groups with Jews work against the Jewish people, they do not speak in the name of the Jewish people.
The story of the Maccabees is one of fighting not just antisemitism, but of fighting forces within our people whose actions align with those who malign the Jewish people.
Writing in Tablet Magazine. Arynne Wexler summed it up when she wrote, “Fighting for Jewish independence and resisting attempts to chip away at our peoplehood – now that is the meaning of Hanukah” – even if it means writing off some of our fellow Jews.