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The Maccabees, Heroism and Your Children

December 18, 2019 | by Dini Harris

This Hanukkah, teach your kids how to identify with true heroism.

The story of Hanukkah has all the elements of a best-selling suspense story: Antiochus and his cruel Greek ministers as villains; a suspenseful plot crammed with battles won against enormous odds and the ultimate stakes – the continuity of the Jewish Nation.

And most importantly, the story's heroes: It was the Maccabees who took to the mountains and deserts, gathering other determined Jews around them, and stood up to the Greeks - even though it seemed that they would fight a losing battle.

The Maccabees seem to have been the type of heroes that Hollywood adores; brawny action figures who leap from hideout to hideout, always escaping and outwitting their enemies.

But the Maccabees were not the archetypical heroes that we've been taught to admire in action films.

The Maccabees were not revered by Jewish sages throughout the ages because of their brute strength or physical bravery, and the holiday of Hanukkah wasn’t instituted in order to glorify muscle power or military strategy.

Hanukkah memorializes the spiritual commitment that infused the Maccabees with the determination and conviction that fueled their fight against the Greeks.

Hanukkah memorializes the spiritual commitment that infused the Maccabees with the determination and conviction that fueled their fight against the Greeks. The holiday commemorates the victory of Jewish spiritual ideals and acknowledgement of the existence of an Omnipotent God, over the Greek lionization of "what you see is what exists" and the deification of human intellect.

It's not physical brawn or beauty that we admire; but spiritual ideals and the commitment to do the right thing at the right time, no matter how difficult the situation and no matter the consequence.

This Hanukkah, take a few minutes to think about the people around you; your neighbors, relatives and co-workers. Some of them have heroic qualities. Recognize these heroes so that you can teach your kids about real heroism.

Real heroes don't necessarily have best-selling stories. Their heroics don't have to involve amazing feats and unbelievable accomplishments. Some real heroes are marked by the consistent small actions they do that align with their moral values.

Identify: Identify the neighbor who shovels snow for elderly neighbors, despite the time and effort it demands of him. Think about the co-worker who refuses to talk negatively about colleagues, even when everybody else in the office enjoys this crass behavior. Recognize the handicapped relative who maintains good cheer, even though they're in physical pain.

Talk: We might recognize that our seemingly ordinary neighbors and relatives are heroes, but our children won't know who we admire if all they hear about is movie celebrities.

Talk to your kids and tell them about the "ordinary" heroes in your life. Tell them the story that happened to you in the bank, when the person in line behind you held her tongue and didn't answer angrily when another person pushed their way ahead of her. Tell your kids the story and point out that holding back an angry reaction is heroic.

Focusing on elderly people and grandparents is particularly beneficial, because learning about their heroic characteristics strengthens intergenerational bonds and gives kids a special appreciation for their elders. It's good for them to learn to respect those who have made wise life decisions throughout their life.

Introduce: Don't just talk about the real heroes in your life, make sure your kids get to meet them. Introduce your kids to heroic neighbors, so your kids get to appreciate their heroism first hand. At the family Hanukkah get-together, ask your parents and grandparents to talk to your children and share their stories. If you're avoiding family parties because of Corona, arrange Zoom sessions with the heroes you've identified, so that they can share their experiences with your family.

This Hanukkah, talk about spiritual strength, the true greatness of the Maccabees. We'll give our children spiritual heroes to admire so that they can learn to emulate them. Over time, we'll be able to stand back and watch our kids grown into heroes themselves.

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