Chanukah is here. No, literally. Don’t just check your calendar, check your dreidel.
For me as a kid, Chanukah was never about the gifts or compensation for another faith’s holiday. It was about a Streits’ box from whence our latkes miraculously emerged and the warm embrace of lights from chanukiyos in our all-Jewish, rent-controlled neighborhood. As a child, it was reassuring to me to see all the windows illuminated by the menoros. As I became older, I became sadly accustomed to seeing fewer chanukiyos annually. I bet if I went back to my dead-end street in Flatbush, there wouldn’t be a single menorah. The closest thing you’d find would be a Kwanzaa candelabra used by our African-American neighbors.
What got me excited about Chanukah was the message of Jewish pride prominent in the story of the amazing Priests of the Hasmonean family, better known to the world as the Maccabees. The family, led by their patriarch, Mattisyahu, could not bear the dictates of Antiochus who, since 175 B.C.E., had issued decrees that forbade Jewish religious practices and initiated abominable idolatrous behavior in their land. The Maccabees started a revolt against the Seleucid ruler. After Mattisyahu’s death a decade later, his son Yehudah assumed leadership of the revolt. Inspired by Maccabee lore, the first book I read from my Hebrew school library was a children’s biography of Yehudah Hamaccabee.
Chanukah was and remains to me the manifestation of Jewish pride. For non-observant Jews who, overwhelmingly, do not own, build, or dwell in a sukkah, Chanukah is the single Jewish holiday in which a physical act is done for the entire world to see. Long ago in Flatbush, we would proudly display our chanukiyah in our window, albeit on the fourth floor, telling Brooklyn we were proud Jews, spiritual descendants of the Maccabees.
This pride grew, becoming more and more the dominant element of my life, leading me to visit Israel and subsequently become observant. I share this with you because I stand here in Israel today, Erev Chanukah, moved by memories of my childhood and bursting with pride in being a Torah Jew with a Torah family here in Israel, yet somehow feeling lonely. Chanukah must be more than latkes and lethal jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot)!
I am flummoxed by the behavior of the candidates for Knesset, Israel’s legislature. Why is there no voice invoking the spirit of the “Maccabees,” our priest/warriors, who fought influences corrupting the Jewish people in Israel? Who amongst the major candidates is protecting Jewish values? There is little talk of “Judaism,” and none of Jewish pride.
Candidates for Knesset — especially, though not exclusively, those of the Left — think the platform to be premier of the putative Jewish State is to malign everyone else. The leader of the moribund Labor party, the party furthest to the Left before falling into the void of the Arab parties and Meretz, is Bujie Herzog, a man a mere two generations removed from Torah Judaism. He has been waging a withering verbal assault on the prime minister and the “national camp.” Herzog’s message is empty of Jewish values. It is all about chasing power. And as a defining act of disregard for Jewish values, he has enlisted former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a harpy who prefers the company of Palestinian Authority representatives to that of fellow Jews. She has a raw lust for power, working her way left in a relentless search for authority. Mercifully, she has failed.
Sadly, on the other side of the spectrum things are not too promising either.
It may be Chanukah, but latkes and dreidels are not enough. Where are our Maccabees?
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst, and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at email@example.com.