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The miracle and light of Hanukkah

December 2, 2018

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, celebrates the bravery of the Maccabees and the miracle of light. Overcoming the powerful Greek army and rejecting the Hellenistic life, a small band of Jews fought to keep our traditions and culture alive; and yes, we are still here! After three years, the Maccabean fighters were able to rededicate the Second Temple in Jerusalem and light one day’s worth of oil, which then lasted for eight days, a miracle we remember and observe with the lighting of our menorah during the holiday.

The symbolism of light is a powerful metaphor. It represents freedom, hope and spirit. We read from the prophet Zechariah 4:6 during Hanukkah, “Not by might, not by power, but by My spirit says the Lord of Hosts.” The battle against the powerful to retain our religious freedom has been a recurring historical theme, but one with a positive ending each time. Israel continues to overcome the hatred surrounding her, with Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iran supporting all the terror and evil it can muster.

The spirit of Israel is not just militaristic, it is incredibly creative and innovative. Did you know there are over 6,000 start-ups currently in Israel, the largest number in the world? The list of inventions and discoveries are so numerous that I can’t begin to list them. The first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, said: “In order to stand strong, we must empower the talented youth among us to dedicate their lives to scientific research and development. We must help them in any way possible, in all fields.” It is one reason Israel is one of the world’s most innovative countries. The fields of health, water technology, software, cybersecurity and food-tech are just some of the categories in which Israel has made wondrous innovations. Israel has the highest number of scientists and engineers per capita than any other country in the world.

Even while dodging the evil of Hamas’ rockets and missiles, eco terrorism and terrorist tunnels, Israel focuses on creative innovations, healing and brilliant technology while making the world a better place. The predictable hatred will always be there sadly, but our faith insists on miracles, joy and celebration. Linda Sarsour will not triumph, Farrakhan will fail, and Iran will not destroy us. Those who support boycotts and relish bashing Israel in our media, at the UN and on college campuses will not come close to the light and spirit of the Jewish people, “a light unto the nations,”

After Pittsburgh, we know that hate speech can lead to murder. Those who hide behind anti-Zionism reveal themselves as anti-Semitic. We know that love and light are stronger than hate. My teacher and mentor, Elie Wiesel of blessed memory, said: “ Even in darkness it is possible to create light and encourage compassion... That even in exile, friendship exists and can become an anchor. That one instant before dying, man is still immortal.” (From his book, “Open Heart.”)

Ben Gurion also said: “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.” In l917, he invited my grandfather, Max Epstein, to stay in Israel and be a great leader. My grandfather looked at the desert, the swamps, the malaria, and said, “I would die for this country, but who can live here?” He did not stay there, but I’m proud of my grandfather for helping Israel in those early years as Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson’s dispatcher and a soldier of the Jewish Legion, the first all-Jewish army since Biblical days. In l919 the Jewish Legion was awarded a cap badge with a menorah and the Hebrew word “Kadima” (forward). The menorah remains a sign of hope and freedom.

As we go forward, let us dedicate ourselves to bringing more light into our world — lighting our menorahs and remembering the bravery of the Maccabees, the Jewish Legion and the State of Israel. May the light banish the darkness of the anti-Semites and extremists on the left and the right.

Miracles and light, faith, joy and freedom — may these ideals move us forward into greater light and a more compassionate world.

Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray is a resident of Ridgefield.

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