These last few weeks have been, in a word, turbulent. As independent young Olim to a new country during this time of year, my husband and I would normally be challenged to navigate the struggles of Israeli absorption, bureaucracy, and university learning. Despite our preconceptions, we have been catapulted, like so many others, back into the historic battles for our people’s existence in a world seemingly ignorant to our cries for help. Jeremiah’s prophetic words “a voice is heard on high/wailing, bitter weeping” (Jeremiah 31:15) capture our nation’s mood. Israel herself pleads with the world to return her children to her — yet the world is silent.
I never expected to find myself in the middle of a war but, now that I’m here, I can’t imagine leaving my country. True, the inconvenient loss of Amazon near Hanukkah is a struggle, but as they say during every Hallmark holiday movie: the best gift is giving. Ordinary citizens here in Israel (and around the world) are working around the clock to provide for the needs of those affected by the war. Many are working in volunteer capacities varying from farming to packing medical supplies. Our nation’s response to the war, especially heading into the holiday season, is to work together to build a season we can all celebrate.
As I wait for the next batch of challah rolls for soldiers to finish baking, it strikes me how Hanukkah is represented differently in Israel than in the Diaspora. Growing up in Atlanta, the central focus in the famous story of the Maccabees was on the miracle of light; how a small jug of oil set aside for the purpose of lighting the Temple’s Menorah for one night lasted for eight. The celebration centered on bringing ‘light’ in the form of religious practice and unbridled joy to our ordinary lives. A phrase I commonly heard in school was to “continue to bring the light of Hanukkah forward beyond the holiday,” or to find meaning and purpose in the traditions of Hanukkah to carry into the rest of the year. Even the name of our heroes, the Maccabees, was an acronym hinting to spirituality in the words “Mi Kamocha B’Elim Hashem”–”Who is like you, Hashem?”
Here in Israel, the holiday mood is similar in its joy, but the reason for celebrating differs. Israelis see Hanukkah as a Jewish victory of nationalism and sovereignty. Much more cultural significance is placed on the miraculous victories of the Chashmonaim (Maccabees) than the spiritual rekindling of the Menorah. The name of the Chashmonaim, the Jewish resistance fighters, displays pride for the resistance fighters’ geographical roots: Jewish natives of the city Chashmonaim. From her inception, Israel has been forced to fight battles for her existence and therefore it is no wonder that military might and war-time miracles take center stage this holiday.
Hanukkah’s duality in holding space for both the physical and spiritual needs of the nation is imperative for this year’s celebration. As we head into an unsure holiday period when we are uncertain about rockets interrupting our candle lighting or if our hostages will even be home to light with their families, it is clear that this Hanukkah will be a year unlike any other in Jewish history. We must find space to hold joy for the holiday while still connecting to national injustices perpetrated against Jews everywhere. As a child of both the Diaspora and Israel, the dichotomy of waiting for miracles both on the homefront and the battlefield appeals to me. We can light the Menorah and hope for an unnatural bending of nature to lead our hostages and soldiers home, and we can also give each other strength to continue fighting this war by supporting one another. We can have our jelly-filled donut and eat it, too!
We can exist in both stories; one of supernatural revelation and the other of doing everything we can to survive. This year, may we enjoy the light of Hanukkah surrounded by those we love, in safety, in happiness, and find strength and light to aid us during these dark times.