Jews have a way of making ancient history come alive and reliving it as if we experienced it ourselves.
On Passover, we eat our matza and bitter herbs and declare that “in every generation, a person is obligated to see oneself as if he came out of Egypt.” At other times, we sit in booths, blow a ram’s horn, reenact the giving of the Torah, or prostrate on the floor the way they once did in the Tenple.
It feels so far and so close all at once.
בימים ההם, בזמן הזה
In those days, at this time.
Old and new.
Long ago in an ancient land, in a country we know well.
We mark events that are simultaneously distant yet all too familiar;
That didn’t happen to us directly but that we still currently relate to;
Back then and also happening right now.
There is a reason that Jews the world over feel more connected than ever to their history, their people, their homeland.
A colleague and I recently returned from a quick trip to the US to visit alumnae studying on campuses and working jobs in the professional world.
We listened as they told us about the friends who have abandoned them, the chants of “intifada” they hear from their classrooms, their professors who protest against the genocide of Palestinians, the beefed up security in front of the Hillel, the new questions on their minds about their future trajectories, the disillusionment they are undergoing, the Nefesh B’Nefesh applications that some of them have opened and the underlying pervasive feeling that nothing will ever be the same. That there will be no turning back the clock.
There was a strong sense of loneliness and a growing awareness and realization of how hard it is for others on the outside to understand and relate to the depth of the sorrow.
One young woman described her meeting with one of the deans of her college. She shared with the dean how abandoned the Jewish community felt and how hurtful and scary it was to not be supported and protected by the administration during such a difficult and challenging time.
Surprised and confused, the dean explained that whenever there is hardship in the world, they do their best to be attentive to their students.
“If there is a hurricane in Houston, we will immediately reach out to our students from Houston and let them know we are thinking about them. After October 7th, we searched our database and were quickly in touch with the one student whose official residence was listed as Israel.”
“That’s wonderful. But what you are not understanding and what is hard to fully describe,” replied the young woman, “is that we are all from Houston.”
And with that one line, she captured and conveyed the deep and instinctive connection, bond and tie that so many Jews feel to Israel.
Israel may not be listed as their official residence. They might never have visited or stepped foot here in their lives. But it is their home nonetheless, and when it is under fire, they are hurting for their family who is experiencing indescribable pain. And they are hurting that they are so far.
From thousands of miles away, Jews have a way of feeling the suffering of one another as if they are experiencing it themselves.
This week is the festival of Chanukah.
In those days, at this time, our ancestors were discriminated against for being Jewish.
In those days, at this time, they were a small group against many.
In those days, at this time, their enemies thought they wouldn’t make it.
In those days, at this time, they felt all alone and abandoned by their Hellenist friends.
In those days, at this time, they stayed true to their values.
In those days, at this time, they banded together and found the courage to fight back.
In those days, at this time, there was a battle of light against darkness.
In those days, at this time, the light won out.
And those days are these days.
And in these days, at this time, we will light our menorahs the way they once did in the Temple.
And then we will sing:
הנרות הללו אנחנו מדליקים על הניסים ועל הנפלאות ועל התשועות ועל המלחמות שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה
“These candles that we light are for the miracles and the wonders and the salvations and the wars You did for our forefathers in those days, at this time.”
And we will recite the words:
נקום נקמת דם עבדיך מאומה הרשעה כי ארכה לנו הישועה ואין קץ לימי הרעה (מעוז צור)
“Avenge the blood of your servants against this wicked nation. For the salvation has been dragged on, and there is no end to the evil.” (Maoz Tzur)
And pray that in these days, at this time, the light will win out once more.