On the eighth night, when all the lights of Hanukkah shone brightest, the darkness couldn’t stand it.
It wanted to have the last word.
So a baby had to be torn from his mother’s womb. He lived just long enough so his young, bullet scarred parents — the mother who for thirty weeks was his home and his everything and the father who threw himself on his wife to try to protect her when terrorists decided to target a pregnant woman standing at a bus stop — could touch him, to say hello and goodbye and I’m sorry and why and NOOOOOOOOO all at once.
He couldn’t make it as long as the Hanukkah lights did. He didn’t even get eight days. But in his death, he still joined his people. He still got his name.
Amiad Yisrael hy”d.
The nation of Israel will stay.
His injured parents couldn’t be there, so his grandparents tucked him in just once and for one last time, among the olive tree roots and souls of great rabbis and leaders and Jewish history.
When I woke up this morning, I watched a video of Amiad Yisrael’s broken-hearted and bewildered grandfather eulogizing him. Through my tears, I was awed by the strength and determination of this man and this family who are grabbing on to their faith and holding on so tightly, even in their darkest and most painful moment, their joy-filled and hopeful Hanukkah turned nightmare.
I thought about our own recent Hanukkahs. Last week, on the fifth night of Hanukkah, we participated in a Chabad menorah lighting at a prominent square in Vienna on a cold night filled with holiday shoppers and twinkling lights. Hilter and Goebbels had once marched right there and it was unnerving when Austrian police started swarming the menorah right before the lighting was about to start. We and all the other Israelis and Jews who were singing loudly in Hebrew and clapping and eating jelly donuts together in a Europe where we still worried about whether my husband should wear his yarmulke in public thought they were going to stop the menorah lighting and it gave me chills. But then suddenly the police gave way and the rabbi and a Shmulik from Ramat Gan climbed up the ladder and lit and publicized the miracle in the beautiful darkness of what was once the heart of the Reich and we sang even louder.
Last year’s Hanukkah we were in Rome. After we shlepped our kids to the Colosseum — built by Jewish slaves according to the plaques there — we went over to the Arch of Titus which commemorates the Roman conquest of Judea and Jerusalem and the plundering of the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple as it shows the menorah being carried away from Jerusalem. As we got to the arch and paused to look up at the menorah, we spotted another visibly Jewish family below us taking pictures under the arch and chattering away in Hebrew.
My husband yelled down to them, “Nitzachnu!”
They looked up at us and laughed and we we wished each other a Happy Hanukkah and we all took a selfie together under the arch and its menorah, two Jewish families from Israel, one Sephardi and Chabad and the other Ashkenazi and modern Orthodox. The Romans were gone but we were still there. And we were all going home, to Israel, after our vacations.
The light leeched away from Hanukkah too quickly this year, before we could even put back our menorahs from our grandparents and from kindergarten arts and crafts projects and the ones that were bat mitzvah presents from fancy Judaica stores. But even as the UN changed the voting rules in the middle of the game so a resolution condemning Hamas — a group who praised this baby’s murder — would fail, even though we know the terrorists’ families will get paid for targeting a 21-year-old pregnant woman and making her a mother without a baby, and even after the world will condemns us for sadly doing what we need to do to capture those terrorists, we will be here.
Like the Ish-Ran and Silberstein families, we will hold on tight. We will light our Shabbat candles this week and our menorahs again next year and fight for the light again and again and again.
We will endure.