“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes,” said Mark Twain. This year’s Hanukkah celebration confirms his claim through a hidden historical fact. This December 16th, the last day of Hanukkah, will mark the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, bringing that momentous event full circle as the Boston Tea Party actually took place on the last night of Hanukkah in 1773 – a fact revealed in my picture book “The Boston Chocolate Party”, which I co-authored with Rabbi Deborah Prinz.
The coincidence is noteworthy. Both Hanukkah and the Boston Tea Party represent two important tenets of the Jewish tradition: political protest and the fight for religious/national freedom in one’s own country. These principles have played a prominent role in modern Israel’s agenda over the past eleven months. In the forty-six years my husband and I have been living in Israel, never have we experienced a year as tumultuous, painful, and exhausting as this one on the Gregorian calendar.
In Israel, events happen so rapidly that major phenomena quickly become eclipsed. Remember the 30+ weeks of consecutive protest rallies against judicial overhaul attended by hundreds of thousands of Israelis? The savage, horrifying events of October 7th have overshadowed those demonstrations…for now. But they are part of the glue that binds the greater Jewish nation scattered across the globe. Jews protest. It’s part of our DNA, ever since Abraham argued with God and the Children of Israel repeatedly confronted Moses in the desert.
It is also one of our clear connections to the American people, with the Boston Tea Party serving as a prime example. Did some Jews participate in that act of defiance? I would have to believe yes, for as The Boston Chocolate Party reveals, Sephardic Jews were part of the colonial landscape. Research shows their presence dating back to the 17th century. With today’s surge of antisemitism on prestigious college campuses around America, it helps to be armed with this fact, especially when many of those antisemites are actually American newbies.
In and of itself, the Boston Tea Party seamlessly connects to the continual battle of the Jewish people: the fight for our homeland. Just as the colonists wanted their own say in their own country, we in Israel affirm our biblical right to the one place we can be “a free people in our own country.” To quote President Biden when speaking in September of this year: “I think that without Israel, there’s not a Jew in the world who’s secure. I think Israel is essential.” How prescient of the President! Who would believe that less than a month later, Israel would be under horrific attack, virulent antisemitism would be unleashed, and Jews across the globe would feel as vulnerable as they did over eighty years ago?
The words of Hatikva – Israel’s national anthem – reflect our burning desire for our own way of life in our own land; a yearning that has been there from the get-go of Jewish history. Although Hatikva was penned more than a century after American colonists asserted this same aspiration, it could be that the organizers of the Boston Tea Party purposely connected their demonstration to the message of Hanukkah. That’s only a conjecture. What is fact is that America’s Founding Fathers leaned on and appreciated the values they learned from the Hebrew Bible and later Jewish tradition. For as Hillel the Sage said: “If I am not for myself, who will be there for me?”