Despair and Hope in Israel

November 26, 2015

6 min read


Hanukkah reminds us that we have the power to repel the darkness with light.

I feel the darkness surround me. We are tired of the cruel murders; the savage shootings, the car ramming’s and barbaric stabbings. As I write, the funeral of Ezra Schwartz is coming to its final moments. I pray that by the time you read these words there will not be fresh names for us to mourn. Meanwhile, I watch Ezra’s siblings cry for a brother who watched over them, filled their home with laughter, taught them how to live and now, transmitted his final lesson that life is fragile and precious. The Jewish people grieve a spirited soul who wanted to study more Torah, grow in kindness and give back to our land.

My computer screen goes dark and I feel hot tears rush down my cheeks. A beautiful face pops up on my phone and I see the next Jewish child who has been taken. Hadar Buchris, 21, “a charming girl, radiant and friendly, her energy always managed to wake everyone up.” Stabbed to death, she too leaves this world as one whose only crime was to walk this earth as a Jew.

The deafening silence of the world astounds us.

The deafening silence of the world astounds us. Our people are being murdered and they are busy labeling Israeli food on their shelves. Why do they not shout out for the Henkins, whose innocent children witnessed their parents being slaughtered? Where are the angry calls for justice, the marches for respect of human life and dignity? How can one turn their back on Rabbi Yaakov Litman and his son Netanel who were driving to celebrate the Shabbat of their daughter’s groom? Now, they too are tragically gone. Can it be that a father and son are brutishly murdered in front of their family and leaders of the world remain voiceless? How has humanity gone mute?

Too many have been lost. The ink is barely dry and then another name appears. Fathers and mothers who will never again kiss their children good night. Young girls and boys who will never walk to their chuppah and stand under its canopy in love. Grandparents who will never cradle babies they have dreamed of; their lullabies remain unsung.

Darkness & Forgetting

And as the days fade I am afraid of us forgetting. We are obligated to see what is happening around us and recall each individual tragedy. Every person who has gone has a story to tell. Each is a world that has been snuffed out, snatched from the arms of loved ones. As long as we remember each face, each name, each soul, we deny those who wish to extinguish their light.

The Hebrew word for ‘forget’(shachach) contains the same letters as the word for ‘darkness’(choshech). Because it is when we forget that we sit in darkness. The opposite of darkness is light which helps us see and remember. This is the message of the menorah – that to cast away the darkness we must hold on to our sacred memory and not lose the light of legacy. We are asked to take the time, gaze into the menorah’s fire and relive its timeless message.

The light of Hanukkah is coming. These holy lights remind us of our story, the miracle of the Jewish nation. We recall how the Greeks tried to destroy our people, outlaw the study of Torah, and impose their beliefs upon the land of Israel. They wanted us to abandon our faith. They caused great anguish and oppressed us with their harsh decrees. Many felt hopeless. They are so many and we are so few. What will be?

The Greeks entered our holy Temple and defiled all the oil used for lighting the Menorah. Outraged by the desecration and torment, a group banded together to restore Israel’s glory. Led by Judah, son of Matisyahu from the family of Chashmonaim, five bold brothers called out to the nation. Emblazoned on Judah’s flag was Maccabee – an acronym for ‘Mi Camocha Ba’eilim Hashem’, words taken from our holy Torah recognizing the awesomeness of God. More than just a physical battle, this became a spiritual contest. Drawing upon their courage a great miracle occurred and the darkness was repelled. Our people, though smaller in number, endured.

When the Jews entered the sanctuary they saw incredible destruction. They decided to rebuild, repair and rededicate. Realizing that there was an inadequate amount of pure olive oil to light the menorah beyond just one day, the Chashmonaim would not surrender to despair. The Menorah was lit. The small flask of undefiled oil remained burning for eight days. And through its light we once again tapped in to the miraculous journey of our people.

Maccabees Today

Our journey continues until today. When the world believes that they have broken our spirit, that there is not sufficient oil to kindle our inner light, we find that hidden spark and reignite the fire within. Wherever we may be in the world we place our menorahs facing the window to openly proclaim the miracle of our nation. The love between Israel and God will not be lost.

Each of us has the ability to kindle a light, to become a Maccabee.

Now is not a time to give in to despair. The Maccabees endowed us with the courage to stand up for our people. We cannot give up; we cannot give in to the madness that surrounds us. Just as the Maccabees courageously rebuilt and rededicated, so too must we take their timeless lessons to heart. Especially when we feel overwhelmed with the destruction that surrounds us.

Each of us has the ability to kindle a light, to become a Maccabee. A little bit of light pushes away the darkness. Too many despair and give up when feeling as if there is overwhelming devastation. We wonder what we can possibly do. Hanukkah becomes our opportunity to rededicate. We search for our personal flask of oil, discover our inner spark and illuminate the world around us. For some it is a rededication to Torah study revealing the power of faith. This holiday is a celebration for families. Parents can use this time to inspire children to find joy in their Judaism.

Our college youth should be encouraged to discover more about our glorious heritage and beautiful rituals. Faced with growing anti-Semitism, knowledge empowers them to stand proud as Jews and be passionate for our people. For others, we draw upon our courage and extend ourselves by taking a step toward rebuilding a marriage, repairing a frayed relationship or friendship. This too requires bravery and strengthens our nation with unity. We cannot afford to be splintered.

The miracle begins when we decide, like the Maccabees, to cast aside the emotions of discouragement and search for our ability to create light. Even if that light seems small, remember that just a single spark can ignite a fire. Never give up. We will endure.

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