There’s Something about Chanukkah…


As I was sitting down to write this blog entry, I decided to look at my e-mail first- always a questionable strategy if you really want to get something done. I discovered that I had received numerous e-mails urging me to address the Iranian threat to Israel in my weekly sermon, a threat that, according to the e-mails, even AIPAC and J Street agree is real and serious.

So it got me thinking…

There’s a wonderful YouTube video that’s gone viral in the Jewish world, featuring about a hundred or more young new Olim to Israel breaking into “spontaneous” Chanukkah song and dance in the middle of Ben-Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. If you haven’t seen it and want to, here’s the link.

Nefesh B’Nefesh, which produced the video, is the wonderful organization that aides new Olim in every aspect of their move to Israel. They do great and important work!

The people in the video obviously did not spontaneously break into dance- I’m sure they rehearsed plenty- but even so, it’s hard to watch that video without smiling broadly. If only for the looks on the faces of the folks on Ben-Yehuda Street, it would be worth watching. But it’s much more than that. It’s a whole lot of people feeling great about being in Israel, and allowing the imminent arrival of Chanukkah to move them. Very touching.

Somehow or other, though other Jewish festivals carry far greater weight and historical significance- not all scholars even agree on the very historicity of the story itself as the popular version has it- Chanukkah has not lost its capacity to warm a winter’s day, and capture the collective and individual Jewish imagination.

There is something obviously profoundly appealing in the underlying message of the holiday- something timeless, and independent of any one particular set of circumstances.

The few against the many, the weak against the strong, the faithful against the idolators… for reasons not too very hard to understand, we Jews relate to those articulations of the holiday’s basic theme. We have known what it means to be weak and outnumbered. Reading yet again of a time when, despite an egregious instance of being an outnumbered underdog, we managed to triumph against the mightiest army in the ancient world, even we moderns can stand just a bit taller.

The problem Israel- and indeed the world- faces with Iran is an existential one, in ways that the Macabbees and ancient Greeks could not have imagined. This is not about who has more spears, or more soldiers. There is no chance that the threat posed by a nuclear Iran is not real, or is an embellishment of a creative religious imagination. It is real, and terrifying, and threatening in the fullest sense of the word.

What is the constant, however, is the underlying theme of the holiday. Bayammim hahem, bazman hazeh. A great miracle happened to our ancestors in those days, at this season of the year. Israel will never depend on a divine miracle to deal with its Iran problem- of that I am sure.

But I am equally sure that our faith in the rightness of our cause can bring us- and Israel- enormous strength if we rise united to support Israel in her struggle to address the Iranian threat. In those days, at this season of the year. In these days… so may it be!