It was one of those perfect Chanukah days, with my brother and I getting off the Coney Island bumper cars on the way to Kosher Country for hot dogs, when we heard “Dirty Jews!”
Before we had a chance to react in anger or fear, the two screamers were running full speed in the other direction.
Knowing that they weren’t running from 7 and 11 year olds in plaid shirts, I imagined that the hand of God had descended from the Cyclone giving chase, when I suddenly spotted a grey-haired Judah Maccabee running after them. To my amazement and somewhat chagrin, this Maccabee was none other than my usually calm dad, Rabbi David Kahane, then spiritual leader of the Sutton Place Synagogue.
He held the boys hard by the collars against the screaming protestations of their own bigger and way meaner looking dad screaming “let my boys go, or else!”
My dad did not budge, finally releasing them to cops on patrol nearby.
I learned perseverance and how to run fast, but confidence was the day’s greatest lesson. Not the confidence of physical strength, which my dad took no pride in, and not confidence in the 1970’s NYPD. It was the simple undeniable confidence of a proud Jew. We are equals, we are here, and we have a state of our own, so in New York City parlance: back off.
Now rewind this incident 40 years back, to a Coney Island before the establishment of the State of Israel and I’m sure the ending would be different. Our own collars being held by a timid father forcing us to apologize. “We are sorry for wearing kippot on the bumper cars, thank you for calling us dirty Jews. Please feel to do it again on the Ferris Wheel.”
This brings us to double knockout weekend.
Knockout No. 1 one took place Friday in Crown Heights when a religious photography intern (more menacing then a flower shop assistant) got knocked down. “A 100-pound Jew” as Israel Blizovsky described himself, punched for the fun of it. City government’s nonchalant between the lines response was “what’s the big deal, you Jews worry too much”.
Knockout No. 2 took place at the other end of the earth in Geneva, where diplomats not thugs knocked down Israel a peg or two while dismissing the Jewish state’s existential threat with a not between the lines “ what’s the big deal, you Jews worry too much.”
To the world, there were two knockdowns, for us they are one in the same. The connection captured best in the words of the beaten and bruised Jew. “No big deal I’m heading to Israel; next time, I’ll bring a Taser”. Words of any other era would have been “where can a Jew go? This too will pass.”
Over Thanksgiving and Christmas, let us hope that the nations of the world will continue to support the idea of an independent and secure Jewish nation, a nation that will sometimes get battered, sometimes be bruised but with the pride and means to always get back up.
As we put our faith in these nations especially our greatest friend the United States of America, we must never forget the central lesson of Chanukah to never rely on others or miracles when our existence hangs in the balance. Like the Greeks then — and nuclear Iran now — we must be prepared with all our collective might to fight a lonely battle.
In the name of Israel Blizovsky, a Coney Island memory and 13 million Jews who stand with you.
Bibi Netanyahu and the Israeli Knesset we beg you to stay strong, unified and as steadfast as the Maccabees. Never return us to wandering the earth; a stateless people down and out for the count.
Reuven Kahane is a former rabbi of the Sutton Place Synagogue, founder of the Bonkers Bagels chain in Israel and currently president of RKRE, e real estate investment company based in Piedmont, Calif.