A shooting in Jerusalem a week ago reminded many Jews of the centuries of animosity they have endured.
Fadi Abu Shkhaydem killed a tour guide and injured four others on November 21 near the Temple Mount, one of Israel’s holiest sites. The 42-year-old teacher from a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem was a senior member of Hamas. Security officers shot him dead shortly after he opened fire on people in the area.
Some Jews have called for metal detectors to be placed at the scene of the shooting. Palestinians oppose such a move because this area is also sacred to Muslims. They call it the Noble Sanctuary, which includes the Aqsa Mosque.
The conflict between Jews and Arabs became mired in decades of political differences over the security of the people of Israel and, ultimately, over the establishment of a Palestinian state. Unfortunately, there is no handy solution to the issue of peaceful coexistence.
In a broader sense, the shooting on November 21 forced the Jewish people to reflect on the struggle for freedom that they have waged for years. It was a historic campaign, which does not seem to have an end in sight.
As the sun sets tonight, Jews around the world will begin to celebrate Hanukkah. This celebration, which will last until sunset on December 8, tells about how they preserved their culture from annihilation.
Jews living in the second century BCE saw their faith become marginalized as they were forced to live under the rule of the Seleucid Syrian-Greek Empire. In 167 BCE, their temple was dedicated to the Greek god Zeus by order of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He also prohibited circumcision and authorized the sacrifice of pigs in the Jewish temple.
Faithful Jews have witnessed the prohibition of the practice of their religion. They had to accept the Hellenistic way of life in order to survive, and an increasing number of them began to abandon the traditions of their ancestors.
Judaism was pushed to the brink of extinction by assimilation. The Jews began to resist and a revolt ensued.
Mattathias, a high priest, killed a Greek soldier who ordered him and other Jews to worship idols and eat pork meat. Mattathias also killed a villager who stepped forward to do things the high priest refused to do.
His five sons – Eleazar, Jochanan, Jonathan, Judah and Simeon – joined with other villagers in killing the remaining Greek soldiers. Mattathias and his sons then went into hiding for support and to strike when the moment came.
The seeds of dissent had been planted. The Maccabean Revolt lasted for several years, with the Jews ultimately overthrowing the Seleucid Empire.
They decided to clean up their temple and start over. Tradition has it that there was not enough oil to burn a menorah for a day, which would have violated the requirements of the Talmud.
But the oil lasted eight days, according to legend. The temple was rededicated and Judaism survived another attempt to destroy it.
Jews were subjected to horrific acts of violence motivated by anti-Semitism, including the Holocaust. During each Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, they reflect on all that they have overcome and how determined they are to thrive.
While their story has its share of tragedy, Hanukkah reflects the triumph of the Jewish people to keep their legacy alive. May this inspire us all to work for peace and freedom around the world.