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Reflections on Hanukkah, past and present

Menorah in front of Swastika

Tonight and for the following seven nights, millions of Jews globally will kindle the menorah, marking the celebration of Hanukkah.

In the year 1932, within Kiel, Germany, Rabbi Dr. Akiva Posner and his wife, Rachel, ignited the menorah, placing it on their window sill, directly facing a daunting Nazi flag across the street.

Integral to Hanukkah is “persumei nisa,” the publicizing of the miracle—the triumph of the Maccabees, a small group of Jews who, in the second century before the Common Era, revolted against and conquered their Seleucid oppressors. Tradition recounts the rededication of the Holy Temple, where the golden menorah, fueled by oil sufficient for a day, miraculously burned for eight.

The Talmud outlines meticulous guidelines on how to publicize this miracle, with commentary on optimal visibility for passersby. The rabbis also delved into considerations of marketplace foot traffic, ensuring candle lighting coincided with bustling pedestrian streets.

Crucially, the rabbis asserted that, in times of peril, the Hanukkah candles could be lit within the safety of one’s home, away from the watchful eyes of the hostile external world.

Yet, for the Posners, this exemption proved inadequate. In 1932, just before Hitler’s ascent to power, their menorah radiated its glow for all neighbors to witness. The brilliance of its light, and the profound meaning it carried, stood in stark contrast to the symbol of Jew-hatred hanging from the neighboring building.

Rachel Posner, attuned to the poignant juxtaposition, captured a photograph of the menorah and the swastika. On its back, she inscribed in German, “ ‘Death to Judah’ proclaims the flag, ‘Judah will live forever,’ retorts the light.”

In 1933, Rabbi Posner, Rachel, and their three children departed Germany for the Holy Land, successfully persuading many congregants to follow suit.

Fast forward to today; Jews worldwide feel unsafe. Personally, I haven’t experienced direct antisemitism and abuse since I moved to the UK. Last week, during Shabbat, as my wife, daughter, and I walked peacefully in the heart of Golders Green, a group of people, clearly there to ignite hatred and incitement, tried to intimidate us by holding flags and shouting known slogans and mottos.

Most Jewish people currently live in Western countries or in Israel. A minimal number live in Arab and Muslim lands for reasons I won’t articulate here. Despite living under the impression and illusion of safety, Jews in Western countries are not fully protected. In Israel, a place often perceived as hectic, all communities, including Jews, Arab Israelis, and Christians, are continuously protected.

Europe, the US, and the West, in general, face a slow death if they don’t act. The values upon which these countries and democracies were built are under threat. Even within Ivy League universities, hate speech and hostile narratives are being disguised under the guise of free speech. This week, leaders of university faculties defended and provided support for the hate and abuse Jewish students endure.

The reality is clear, and I have come to some realizations: Israel is the only place on Earth where Jews will truly be safe and protected. While there may not be actual Nazis or a current thorough Western state-run systemic operation similar to the Holocaust to physically eliminate Jews currently, the hatred remains the same. However, as the events of October 7th have shown, Jews are still violently killed and massacred.

Israel does not belong to the West, but it serves as the West’s support to prevent its complete failure. Israel falls under its own unique geopolitical category, ensuring the West’s stability.

Throughout history, Jews have proven their strength, surviving the toughest enemies. In short, all our adversaries over the millennia have either been defeated or completely eliminated.

It’s time to go home!
Chag Hanukkah Sameach!

Source regarding story of Rabbi Dr. Akiva Posner: New York Times. 

About the Author
Yaakov Chaliotis is a social media marketer and data analyst based in London, UK. He is actively involved in defending Israel's interests and supporting Jewish communities against antisemitism through his social media presence. Yaakov is also a key participant in interfaith dialogues where he plays a significant role in connecting the non-Jewish world with the Jewish world. Whilst he was working in the British Civil Service he was always involved into bringing people together from different faiths and cultural backgrounds. Having a deep understanding of the internal politics of communities in both the UK, Greece & Cyprus Yaakov is fascinated by the religious and cultural diversity of Jewish communities worldwide. He has a legal education and worked in central government communications and is currently working as a data and analytics advisor in the Oil & Gas industry and is an active member of the Jewish Diplomatic Corps of the World Jewish Congress.
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