Chanukah 2023: Be Strong and Strengthen Others
As Chanukah begins this Thursday night, I’d like to share with you the profound words of philosopher Rabbi David Hartman. This essay was written forty-three years ago, but its ideas resonate with us today in light of current events.
“The lights of the Hanukkah menorah symbolize the strength to remain different, and the right to sustain particular values and loyalties in a world in which one is different and often isolated. Placing the Hanukkah menorah near the window for all to see represents the great message which Jews convey to the world: we choose not to hide the flame of our spiritual tradition within the secluded confines of our people and our family, but rather, we wish to have our flame radiate light in the marketplaces of history. The Hanukkah menorah is a concrete expression of the Jews’ commitment to place our values and beliefs into the mainstream of history and enter the world with dignity and integrity.”
Since the Maccabbess fought against the Syrian/Greeks, many think that they were against all outside teachings. But Hartman disagrees: “Hanukkah does not commemorate a total rejection of Hellenism; instead, the revolt focused specifically on those aspects of foreign rule that expressly aimed to weaken loyalty to the God of Israel. The Maccabees rejected the paganization of Judaism. They were selective in their attitude to Hellenism: they rejected what was considered to be inimical to the continuity of Judaism and incorporated within their way of life what was compatible with Jewish values and practices.”
Hartman says, “The primary question which we must ponder on Hanukkah is whether the Jewish people can develop a profound personal identity that will enable it to meet the outside world without feeling threatened or intimated. The choice need not be ghettoization or assimilation. Can we absorb from others without being smothered? Can we appreciate and assimilate that which derives from “foreign’ sources, while at the same time, feel firmly anchored to our particular frame of reference?
Hanukkah is a time to reflect on such questions. How we answer them will influence our priorities, the types of families, and institutions we build, and the character of the leaders we train. The destinies of both Israel and Jews in the diaspora depend on how solidly we build Judaic values into the core of our identities so that Jews will be able to interact with the world from a position of dignity and rootedness.”
Our Chanukah lights this year are ever more powerful. For Jews in America, what we say, believe, and propound has never been more scrutinized. Is our primary allegiance to America or Israel, and what’s the price of our and Israel’s safety?
Currently, I am attending the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s Convening in Baltimore, MD. Seven hundred rabbis, cantors, and lay leaders have joined for five days to share programming, our movement’s goals and to strengthen each other.
Last night, we heard from Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Herzog. He firmly stated that Israel will not stop its war on Hamas until they are weeded out, and Israelis will no longer have to fear attacks from the south. He also stated that Israel will give early warning to the Gazans so that those who are not fighting will have the opportunity to leave the combat zone. It was clear that the Israeli Army would not abandon its Jewish values while trying to ensure Jewish safety and security.
Chanukah was not an all-out rejection of the outside world. Jews embraced many of the advancements that Greek culture brought to Israel. But, the Maccabbees balked at what would be the end of Israel. They stood up, willing to risk their lives for our people and faith. Nowadays, the IDF and the State of Israel are fighting for the same goals. We need to support them. The Jewish people deserve to have a safe and secure homeland. Now is the time to be brave, continue our support of Israel, and display our pride in being Jewish.
P.S. Please join the POB Jewish community this Wednesday night by coming to hear Millet Ben-Haim, a survivor of the October 7th Hamas assault on the Nova Music Festival. Hear a first-hand account of what occurred and what’s happening now. It is hosted by Makom NY, 600 Broadway, Bethpage. See the daily email to register.