Chanukah: Lighting the Spark of Unity

Mi Yimalel Gvurot Yisrael Who can retell the things that befell us? Who can count them? In every age a hero or sage came to our aid. Hark! In days of yore, in Israel’s ancient land Brave Maccabees led the faithful band. But now all Israel must as one arise, Redeem itself through deed and sacrifice.

Every year people around the world sing this joyful song in celebration of the holiday of Chanukah. Our homes and hearts are filled with light, hope, and family. As we set upon honoring this festive time, it is important that we consider the modern relevance of the historical events that took place.

Not only was this a triumph of the Jewish people in our commitment to the Jewish faith; it was a triumph of the Jewish nation in our struggle for independence in the one ancient homeland to which we are bound.

After nearly 600 years of subjugation, the Jews were again masters of their own fate. Most people don’t realize that during this whole time, the Temple stood in Jerusalem and Jews lived within its vicinity, continuing to practice the religion of our ancestors. But we were not independent. We did not have freedom. We were continuously persecuted in our own land on the whim of every ruler who conquered Judea, as it was then called being named after the very Children of Israel from whom we descend.

What the Maccabees achieved was a small miracle in itself: a rebellion against a world set out to destroy us. It is this miracle that we should also invoke as we light the Chanukah candles this year – the miracle of the Jewish People and our commitment to the Jewish land and the history that links us to it FOREVER.

Theodore Herzl once said: “The Maccabees will rise again- A wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil. The world will be liberated by our emancipation, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. Whatever we accomplish there for our own welfare will spread and rebound powerfully and beneficially for the good of all humanity.”

Indeed these words have been fulfilled and we now live as free men on our soil. Has the persecution of Jews ended? Sadly, no. Are we still attacked from all sides by those who refuse to accept, understand, or respect us? Yes. But the resounding echo of AM YISRAEL CHAI allows us to overcome these challenges to our existence.

As the missiles fell on the communities and families of Israel just a few weeks ago, the connection of Am Yisrael was tested. Anyone willing to let their personal politics get in the way of supporting the continued existence of Israel was forced to reckon with the terrible onslaught of hatred, violence, and terror against the Jewish state. That test continues as Jewish people the world over are also forced to ask themselves: how does this relate to me?

The truth is that this connection has become for many, too hard to discover beneath the verbal and visual attacks that turn everything and anything connected to Israel into something political. Israel, above all else, is history, it is tradition, it is culture, it is a nation, it is memory.

Without Israel, what is the future of the Jewish People? For what is a people without its past, without its land, and without its history? Just as Chanukah encourages us to annually rekindle the lights of the Maccabees, so too shall we endeavor to continuously reignite our connection to Israel that has the power to unite Jews around the world.

If we were indeed to leave our politics at the door, we would agree that Israel is an integral part of the future of the Jewish People, wherever we may be in the world. It is the heart, it is the soul, and we must help each other find a way to take that personally. We at The Israel Forever Foundation are proud to be a part of that movement, initiating a revival of Ahavat Yisrael that Jews have carried since the days of Abraham, the Maccabees, and for 2000+ years.

Let us not allow our enemies to divide us and strip us of this part of our ancestral legacy we have carried so proudly for generations. And let us kindle the Chanukah lights this year determined not only to recount the things that befell us, but to arise as one and be proud of our accomplishments we can admire, of our failures from which we learn, of our mistakes to which we seek to correct, and of the hope that shall forever bind us together with the homeland and history which connect us all.

Chag Sameach and may your hearts and homes be filled with the light of Israel!

About the Author
Elana Yael Heideman, PhD is is the Executive Director of The Israel Forever Foundation, an Israel Engagement organization dedicated to celebrating and strengthening the personal connection to Israel for people across the globe.