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The Monsey Hanukkah Horror

December 30, 2019 | by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

We Jews, descendants of the Maccabees, need to become more Jewish, not less Jewish.

After the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh we foolishly thought there was only enough hate to last for one day in our civilized society of America. But we were wrong. The list of cities in the headlines with anti-Semitic incidents almost daily grows longer. The virus of hate continues to flourish and incredibly grows stronger. Synagogues have armed guards. Jews are attacked. The darkness overpowers the light in a stunning reversal of the Hanukkah miracle.

It seems just days ago that we were horrified by events in Jersey City. Now, in addition to the Hasidic areas, it is even the exclusive upper East side of Manhattan as well. It does not take peyot, sidelocks, and wide-brimmed black hats to bring out the hatred. It is enough today for the anti-Semites merely to suspect that their victims are Jews.

Let us take a moment to reflect on the remarkable connection between the latest Monsey incident and Hanukkah.

“For the miracles, for the deliverance, for the strength, for the salvation and for the battles” – we thank God for all of these, including the battles. We thank God for Mattathias and his sons who bravely demonstrated that Jews do not believe in passively accepting the efforts of those who seek to destroy us. Jews do not live by the maxim to turn the other cheek. Jews, even those for whom the temple as a dwelling place for God on this earth is the ideal, recognized the need not to rely solely on the Almighty but to put forth all of our own efforts as well to rid us of evil and to make us worthy of God’s presence in our midst.

Hanukkah is the holiday of the Maccabees as much as it is the commemoration of miracles.

It is not a time for silence when anti-Semitic attacks are countered with political platitudes of “zero tolerance” followed by revolving door justice. It is almost impossible to believe that suspects arrested in last week’s string of eight anti-Semitic attacks were quickly released right back into the neighborhoods they allegedly terrorized due to bail reform legislation. New legislation requires arraignment judges to free suspects “in any non-sexual assault that doesn’t cause physical injury, even in cases of hate attacks. Even if there is an injury, then bail could be requested”, but not necessarily granted.

In New York City’s Orthodox neighborhoods Jews are incredulous to discover that even when violent bigots are caught they are immediately released in accord with changed legislation.

Ever since I came to America, fleeing as a young boy from the Europe which made it possible for 6 million Jews to be brutally murdered, I have proudly fulfilled the Hanukkah mitzvah of “publicizing the miracle.” It is Hanukkah which demands of us that we place the menorah by the window facing the street in the outside world. It is our way of imitating the Maccabees. We will not hide our faith. We will proudly announce our identity as Jews.

America to me has always been the blessing that allowed me to walk everywhere, unafraid, with a yarmulke on my head.

Today, for the very first time in my life, someone said to me, “Maybe, for your own sake, it might be safer for you to walk around with a baseball cap instead of your kippah.”

And that of course is the beginning of the end for Jews in every country they have ever lived.

We Jews, descendants of the Maccabees, need – in the spirit of Hanukkah – to become more Jewish, not less Jewish.

Of course I have intensified my prayers. Of course I turn to God and beseech him to help us in this terrible time of danger. But I do not forget that there once was a priest with five sons who joined action to prayer, who proved to the Syrian Greeks that Jews will not choose to be meek victims but rather proud Maccabees.

When Jews are attacked with a machete in a synagogue while celebrating Hanukkah it is way past time for us to make clear – to our politicians, to our neighbors, to our society, to our country – ENOUGH! This will not be allowed to continue - and this time around, after the lessons of the Holocaust, our heroes are the Maccabees, not the Jews of silence.


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