Having made Aliyah from Cleveland, Ohio, I receive the CHAI (Cleveland Hometown Association in Israel) newsletter periodically. The most recent issue opens with a holiday message from Jerusalem Rabbi Shalom Bronstein who has kindly granted me permission to share it with you.
The rabbis in the Talmud ask the question “What is Hanukkah?” In the world of today, I would not be surprised if it is the most widely known Jewish holiday. In reality, the holiday is looked upon by various segments of the Jewish world in so many ways that the Hanukkah of one is almost unrecognizable to another. We all know that its proximity to another winter holiday inflated its importance.
Traditional Hanukkah Gelt gave way to a newly invented custom of giving children a new gift every night. I first learned of that practice over 40 years ago when our daughter came home from her day school nursery in New York and told us that her teacher told them that on Hanukkah children get a gift every night from their parents. Her teacher told me that she was under the impression that everyone followed that practice.
A different Hanukkah was invented by the early Zionists. Here the almost forgotten military aspect became the main feature. The battle victories of the Maccabees over what were called the Syrian-Greeks were deemed the essence of the holiday. The powerless Jews were able to defeat, seemingly on their own, the world power of the day. The fact that this was not an accurate portrayal of Hanukkah mattered little. The civil war between rival Jewish factions was disregarded. The role of Rome in the struggle was not mentioned. Hanukkah became the holiday commemorating a tremendous military victory where Jewish might prevailed, the model for the new Jew being created in the Land of Israel.
Each of these examples overlooks the true heroism and distinctive nature of the struggle. It was a battle in which authenticity opposed imitation. The defilement of the Temple was not initiated by outsiders but by Jews themselves. The very leadership of our people at that time was behind the changes urging the people to follow in their paths. Had a brave few not taken action by putting their own lives on the line our people would not have survived.
The key message of Hanukkah is found in the Haftarah where we read the words of Zechariah:
“Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, said the Lord of Hosts”.
In light of the fighting between Jews since this tiny country was established, I feel this is an important message to spread – please feel free to pass it on to others.
Announcement: I have agreed to take over the responsibilities of the CHAI Newsletter, e-mail announcements, and welcoming new olim from Cleveland, so if you have any Cleveland news to share with former Clevelanders living in Israel or Israeli news to share with Clevelanders, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank You.