The Hanukkah story that Jews must learn


Many of us are familiar with the themes of Hanukkah history: pride in being Jewish; the small number against the large number; the defeat of our enemy; and the consecration of the Jewish Temple. Or maybe some only learned about the miracle of the oil and how it burned continuously for eight days. While these are important themes, the story of Hanukkah is so much more than it is central to why we celebrate the holiday and why it is so relevant today.

Looking at the story of Hanukkah, which occurred in the second century BCE, we know that many Jews from that time were assimilated. They wanted everything; they identified themselves as Jews but did not want to affiliate, and they did not study Torah. Some were culturally Jewish, until that too was banned. They, like so many others today, would certainly have declared themselves “Jews of a different religion or of no religion.”

These Jews, known as Hellenists, imitated all that Greek culture had to offer. To be accepted into the corridors of commerce and power, they believed they had to disassociate themselves from their Jewish brethren. The core Jewish values ​​of justice and morality hampered the self-conserving and decadent mores of the conquering Greek culture.

But when the ruling non-Jewish government began to suppress religious freedom, life became decidedly uncomfortable for their practicing Jewish brethren. Forced to abolish Jewish rituals, including brit mila (circumcision), Jewish names, Shabbat, festivals and Torah study, those who did not assimilate were forced to choose between embracing Greek culture or the death penalty.

A minority within the religious community who chose to fight this oppression joined the Maccabees and became part of an uprising. They achieved a miraculous military defeat, the part of Hanukkah history that is well known.

The other part of the story, however, is that the pressure to eradicate “hard-line Judaism” came from the Hellenists – the assimilated Jews. They did not appreciate the fact that their lives were made more difficult by a minority of their own people who refused to “give up their old ways”.

The Assyrian Greeks, as conquerors of the land of Israel, expected to absorb the Jews, despite the fact that they were indigenous. Not only was it uncomfortable (and not politically correct) for those who wanted to fit in; but the Hellenists (Jews) were just as brutal towards their fellow Jews who refused to adapt to the “new reality and morality”.

Those who stuck firmly to their Jewish heritage were “called” and handed over to authorities by other Jews. The Maccabees were forced to go into hiding and face their own retribution, in addition to fighting their Greek oppressors.

As we approach Hanukkah season, a time when we celebrate our own Jewish pride, we sadly find ourselves in the shadow of the Hellenists. Fast forward a few thousand years, and here we are reading articles about Jewish employees at Amazon and Google leading the charge with a petition to have their respective companies “call” their fellow Jews. They are asking these two corporate giants to renege on a contract with the Israel Defense Forces, which would end up compromising the security of the State of Israel – their end goal.

Armed with incorrect and erroneous information, the petitioners claim that the use of government cloud storage will harm Palestinians, and help and encourage Israeli settlement activity in “occupied territory”.

What the petition does not The address is that Google and Amazon both have contracts with countries that openly admit to occupying territory. Russia, which occupies part of Georgia and Ukraine; Vietnam, which occupies Cambodia; and others. In other words, these social activists are silent when it comes to human rights violations around the world.

The contracts signed by Amazon and Google will help Israel continue to prosper and develop in safety and security, innovating solutions to problems around the world. This is a fact ignored by the United Nations and most of the world, with a false narrative of oppression, and misunderstood by the petitioners.

If I am Jewish and don’t understand why it matters or how it makes me a member of a family, then I can only stray from my own people and culture if I find the opportunity to do so. to call. This allows me to dissociate myself from the parts where I come from that I do not understand enough to value or know are sources of pride. And, the self-loathing as a Jew that translates into destructive anti-Semitism on this systemic level is more than frightening.

Make no mistake about who is responsible for this lack of understanding and the need to disassociate ourselves from the larger Jewish community: we are.

The global Jewish community has known for some time that Jewish education has failed most of its own children. The experience of conveying great stories and abstract ideas without context, practice or community has simply failed.

Of the 5.8 million adult Jews in the United States, 1.5 million, or just over 25%, identify as “Jews without religion.” The 2020 Pew study, published in May 2021, tells us that Jews are no longer affiliated with synagogues or even other secular Jewish institutions.

They did not have positive Jewish experiences. They don’t know what the Jewish religion is or why it should be a source of pride. They don’t know what Jewish wisdom is or why they should be doing it.

They do not identify with other Jews as the only Jewish family that we are.

We have seen this problem grow and get worse. The founder of the IAHS, Rabbi Noah Weinberg, warned of the dangerous ramifications as early as the 1970s. Because we have enabled Jews to become young adults without Jewish wisdom or understanding of Jewish values, focusing instead on talent, ambition and intelligence – as a way to mark the world – we are seeing a devastating increase in attacks against other Jews. Tragically, it is inevitable.

While I’m sure many of the misguided young activists involved believe they are innovative and pioneering, they could sit down with the thousands of Jews the Maccabees had to fight so many hundreds of years ago and hear the power. of their recoil. They might shake their hearts at learning how wrong they are – dangerously wrong, but if this scenario could really happen, they would rightly turn to us and ask us, “Why haven’t we. you not learned to know better? “

And they would be right.

I have no doubts that the cloud storage contract will go as planned. And if Google and Amazon don’t deserve to work with Israel, another company will. Even if Israel has to build its own warehouse or contract with a smaller David instead of a Goliath, someone else will earn that money and help Israel continue to be a source of good. It may take longer, but it will happen.

Unfortunately, it may be too late to provide any understanding to many of those who signed this petition or to their peers. It is the core values ​​of Judaism that are the true path to justice, righteousness and human dignity, and the path to truly end oppression in the world.

But it’s never too late for those who come next. And when they turn to us and ask us why we haven’t taught them to know better, what will our response be?

For those of you who still haven’t read, seen or heard, there have been many changes in Aish. We’re laser-focused on standing up and taking responsibility for imparting and sharing Jewish wisdom, trying to reach impressive numbers over the next decade so that they can “know better” .

It requires out-of-the-box creativity, including massive social media initiatives. This is where the next generation of leaders, thinkers, and Google employees digest their information.

Once we break the constant cacophony of too much digital information, where do we take the curious? At Aish, we work on developing content that effectively delivers a ‘customer journey’, enabling people wherever they are, regardless of their background, to access timeless Jewish wisdom. Others are too, but we know that is not enough.

As a Jewish community, we need to wake up and face the situation as the emergency it is. We have to relate the attacks on Israel, the attacks on the Jews, the embarrassment in public and in private, to admit that one is a Jew in America today as the urgent and threatening state that it is. We cannot continue to ignore the lack of Jewish literacy and the growing anti-Semitism that strikes us, even and especially from our own brothers and sisters.

It’s not just that our people are turning against their Jewish families. It is not just that the homeland of the Jewish people faces daily attacks from ours. All of this is true. But we also fail those who choose to attack us, and we have the power to make the change.

Rabbi Steven Burg is the CEO of Aish and a member of the Jewish Agency’s board of governors.


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