For over 2,000 years, from the time of the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE up until the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948 we Jews were an extremely vulnerable people. Living in galut, exile, we endured inquisitions, pogroms, and genocide. We were not in control of either our security or our destiny.
But if we go back some 2,100 years to the time of the Maccabees, we find a period when we were not so vulnerable. The story of Hanukkah recalls that time when a relatively small band of Jews decided that they had enough of being ruled by a cruel tyrant. We rose up in revolt against the powerful Assyrian Greeks. What followed was a resounding Jewish victory, the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and the miracle of Hanukkah which we celebrate every year until this day.
Jewish rule in Judea lasted some 200 years after the Maccabees, finally collapsing in the first century of the Common Era. During much of the next 2,000 years, without a homeland, without a military, and without the ability to ensure our own safety, we lived (or died) at the whim of various rulers, kings and tyrants. We shuddered in fear of the next crusade, pogrom, or anti-Semitic attack, relying on the good graces of the king or government to protect our communities. And often there was no protection to be found.
The American Jewish experience, of course, has been markedly different from what our people experienced in Europe. Sure, antisemitism existed on these shores as well, often just below the surface, but it was largely limited to rhetoric and discrimination. We felt safe, built robust communities, synagogues, JCC’s, Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivahs. We thrived as Jewish Americans, and felt that here we were finally accepted as an integral part of the American tapestry.
But after the events of October 7th we feel that familiar, aching sense of vulnerability once again. Our people in Israel were brutally attacked in ways that were reminiscent of some of the worst atrocities our people suffered during the Holocaust. And what followed was equally distressing. Sure, there was sympathy and outrage at first, but that sympathy quickly gave way to an explosion of antisemitism we had hoped was long defeated.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the Hanukkah story, it is that fatalism and retreat is not the answer. Complacency is not an answer either. The answer to hate is resolve, inner strength, pride, determination and resilience.
We saw that power of the Jewish spirit on full display during the solidarity rally last month in Washington DC. Nearly 300,000 of us came together from across the country to sing, pray, and come to understand that ‘never again’ is now. There was a meme going around that captured it perfectly: “If there’s one thing we Jewish people have learned in the past few weeks it’s this: The world doesn’t care about us as much as we hoped, but we care about each other a lot more than we realized.”
And therein lies the Jewish people’s most powerful weapon. We may disagree with one another on this or that issue, but we must never let those disagreements devolve into fracturing our sense of unity, and shared destiny. As the Talmud states (Shevuot 39a) kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, all Israel are responsible one for another.
All of us have some very concrete things that we can do today. Educate yourself on what’s going on. Know how to answer Israel’s critics and don’t be afraid to do so. Contact your members of Congress, regularly. Send donations to Hatzalah and Magen David Adom and Federation. But more importantly, stand up for human decency and make your voice heard.
Sadly, these threats are not new for us. The Jewish people have been around for 4,000 years, and we are not going away anytime soon. God willing, the heroism of the Maccabees will inspire us and provide us with the courage to face whatever challenges lie ahead.
May the lights of the Hanukkah menorah continue to inspire us during these difficult days, strengthen our resolve, and give us the fortitude to achieve a more peaceful and compassionate world.