Israel, Hamas and Hanukkah

My Chronicle article for December…. If someone were to ask you why Hanukkah is such a popular holiday among Jews, the first answer to pop into your head would most likely be:  “The presents!”  However, we know that Hanukkah was popular among our people long before the 20th century, when presents became such a major component of the holiday celebration.

I believe that the popularity of Hanukkah is rooted in the concept of “home.”  The Maccabees fought to liberate and re-dedicate our people’s spiritual home (i.e., the Temple).  Today, when we light the Hanukkah candles, we bring light, warmth and ritual into our homes during the darkest days of year.  As members of the family come together, the holiday reinforces the centrality of the home in Jewish life.

As I sit to write this article, Israel and Hamas are once again on the precipice of war and both of these concepts of home are reverberating in my mind.

First of all, once again, Israel is in the position of having to defend our people’s spiritual home from attack.  Over the last decade, on average, 1,000 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza each year.  This year – with a month still to go – there have been 2,000 rockets fired already.  No country would – or should have to! – tolerate such relentless attacks.

However, these rockets are not merely being fired upon the Jewish homeland.  They are raining down on individual homes.  Families are forced to spend night after night in specially-constructed safe-rooms and shelters instead of their bedrooms.  Some communities have gone so far as to build underground playgrounds because they don’t dare allow their children to play outdoors with the ever-present threat of rockets and missiles.

Now, I know that there is suffering on the Palestinian side as well.  People’s lives and homes are being destroyed.  I do not in any way discount the pain and anguish being felt by everyday Palestinians.  However, one need only look at some of the strategic decisions made by the leaders on both sides to see how we’ve gotten to this point.

While Israel was building underground shelters and bunkers for the women and children of Southern Israel, Hamas was building underground rocket launchers.  While Israel created a warning system to get civilians to safety, Hamas makes sure to keep women and children around their launchers so that when they are killed by return fire, Israel will look bad.

Unfortunately, Golda Meir’s famous statement from 1957 rings true today: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”

On each of the eight days of Hanukkah, we recite the Al-Hanisim prayer in which we say the following to God:  “You, in great mercy, stood by Your people in time of trouble.  You defended them, vindicated them, and avenged their wrongs.”  Sadly, we must pray for God to do these things again in our own time.

Best wishes for happy – and perhaps peaceful – Hanukkah.





About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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