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Home December 2023 A Hanukkah Lesson

A Hanukkah Lesson

“The real message of Hanukkah is Jewish pride and resistance to assimilation,”
— Rabbi Chaim Eliezer Edelstein of Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen

Rabbis draw comparisons to fighting Hamas

What can the ancient story of Hanukkah tell us about the murder of 1,400 Jews and taking of 240 hostages on Oct. 7?
    Central New Jersey rabbis drew comparisons from the war against Hamas to the triumph of a band of rebel Jews (known as the Maccabees) in reclaiming the Temple in Jerusalem from the Greek-Syrians in 165 BCE.
    The rabbinic world emphasizes the miracle of light. The Maccabees were able to get back the Temple and they wanted to rededicate it. They only had enough oil for one night and it lasted eight nights, hence the eight nights of Hanukkah.
    Rabbi Sheldon Schevelowitz of Perrineville Jewish Center in Millstone said that the Maccabees fought for the Holy Temple, for the right to exist.
    “I think we’re just living in that same type of situation right now with Israel fighting against Hamas for its existence.”
    Rabbi Joel Mishkin of Congregation Beth Ohr in Old Bridge said, “The fact that after they were able to get back the Temple to consecrate it, to purify it, I think this is true of Judaism, which is we are a religion of life, we choose life. And what happened to the people, the 1,400 civilians, their lives were erased by a philosophy of death.”
    Rabbi Chaim Eliezer Edelstein of Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen said that Hanukkah “is not one of the most important holidays of the year. But I think its message is speaking louder than some of the other holidays that traditionally we might say are more important.
    “Hanukkah’s real message that often gets swept under the lamentable commercialization of the holiday we see in America is actually a process of assimilation,” Edelstein said. “And the whole point of Hanukkah is don’t assimilate. There was actually a war that happened.
    “The real message of Hanukkah is Jewish pride and resistance to assimilation,” Edelstein said. “I think that is the message today that Jews need to hear, loud and clear.
    “I think this year we’ll see a lot more connection to Hanukkah on a perseverance kind of level than we’ve seen in the last few decades. We’ll see a lot more discussion about Hanukkah as a memorialization and celebration of a victory against a culture that wanted to eradicate Judaism.
    “We overcame. We were steadfast and we persevered,” Edelstein said. “And I think that’s the message I will be speaking more about this year than perhaps in the past.
    “Aside from Greece, which is bankrupt, every empire and every culture that has sought to eradicate us is gone, but the people of Israel and the State of Israel will continue to be here, Edelstein said. “We’re all over the world even though it’s a scary time to be Jewish. We are doing tzedakah (charity.) We’re teaching and learning Torah. We are out and about and we are thriving even though we are still oppressed. We don’t let that put out our light.
    “Can you make that connection to the Hamas surprise attack on Israel?” Edelstein asked. “How can you not? The only difference is today, there are people in the world who want to eradicate Jews. If you kill Judaism like the Greek-Syrians wanted, then those people do exist. But if you kill all the Jews, Judaism will cease to exist. They’re both means to the same end.”

Central New Jersey rabbis drew comparisons from the war against Hamas to the triumph of a band of rebel Jews (known as the
Maccabees) in reclaiming the Temple in Jerusalem from the Greek-Syrians in 165 BCE.

    Rabbi Andra Greenwald, the spiritual leader at Temple Beth Shalom in Manalapan, says that Hanukkah is the festival of lights amid the darkness.
    “The unprovoked attack against Israel by Hamas is one of the darkest times many of us have faced and we certainly can use some light in the darkness,” she said. “Light is also a symbol of hope and we can hope that since many tragedies and atrocities have befallen us before back to the days of the Maccabees, there’s hope that we’ll see light again.”
    Rabbi Robert Wolkoff, the Conservative Rabbi of Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick, said of Hanukkah that there is a parallel to recent events.
    “Hanukkah had its beginnings in a breakdown of civic society, the weakness of the people to the onslaught from the outside. All these ancient religions, Babylonian, Egyptian, were being blown away by Hellenism. The idea that this little people would choose to follow their own path and a small band of Jews would demand their own Jewish identity and live in accordance with their own tradition, that was seen by the world, like, what’s wrong with these people? Why are they holding on to these idiosyncratic beliefs and insisting on having their own identity as opposed to just being a part of this great big, Hellenistic world?
    “That’s a large part of what’s happening in the world today. What’s wrong with these Jews? Why do they insist on having their own state instead of just being a part of humanity altogether? Why do they keep on insisting on their right to be themselves?
    “The Jewish Voices for Peace crowd are linked to this idea that we should not be so insistent on being ourselves,”
Wolkoff said. “We should be a part of everybody else.”
    Rabbi Maury Kelman of Congregation Agudas Achim in Bradley Beach said that if you want to understand what to do in the present and the future, you have to understand the past.
    “Obviously now this is a very, very traumatic time for Jews around the world. The unfathomable has happened on Oct. 7 and then just to exacerbate things, there’s the incredible antisemitism we’re seeing around the world,” Kelman said.
    “So, it’s a very, very dark time now and could lead to a lot of depression and people giving up. One of the main messages is the small against the mighty and we were literally able to bring light to the world. The miracle of the military victory and the spiritual side should give us hope as we’re facing this difficulty.
    “This is an existential crisis right now as we see Hamas and their ilk trying to destroy us as a people and the whole world seems ready to abandon the Jewish people,” Kelman said. “So that message goes on the military level that, G-d willing, Israel will have a swift military victory and destroy Hamas as the Syrian-Greeks were destroyed some 2,200 years ago.
    “We pray to G-d and hope that He will help us clearly on the military level, but also that there will be new lights that will accentuate the lights of Hanukkah.”  

Ellen Braunstein is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.

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