What can the story of Chanukah teach us today?

FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS IN 2016. From left: Local 299 member Rabbi Alvin Kass, Jewish Heritage Committee Chair Dr. Lenny Davidman, president of Local 1189, Jackie Rowe-Adams, Local 299 president, and DC 37 Treasurer and Local 1407 Pres. Maf Misbah Uddin. Photo: Clarence Elie-Rivera

By LEONARD DAVIDMAN, PhD, President, Local 1189 & Chair, DC 37 Jewish Heritage Committee

Do these headlines look familiar?

Resistance. A nation divided.

Citizens clashing. A battle over values.

Each side demeans the other. Cancel culture. Who should be the nation’s leader? How should we deal with foreign countries? No! They are not from 2020. They are from the year 168 BCE. It was not Washington, DC…it was Jerusalem.

As we know, the popular story of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, commemorates the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem after it had been defiled by the ruling power, the ancient Syrian-Greeks. Antiochus IV Epiphanes outlawed the Jewish religion, outlawed circumcision, and even outlawed the observance of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. Instead of using kosher animals, the foreign powers sacrificed pigs to pagan gods such as Zeus on the Temple’s holy altar. After the successful four-year rebellion by the Jews, at the rededication, they lit the Temple candelabra using purified, kosher oil. The small cruse of oil, enough for one day, miraculously lasted eight days. That is why today we light Chanukah candles for eight nights, starting with one solitary candle and ending with eight.

But the next part of the story is not as well known. The Jews had their own civil war. Worse than a foreign power outlawing the Jewish religion, a segment of the Jewish population called Hellenists, thought it was just fine. They were fine abandoning their religion. They endorsed the ancient Greek culture, the egocentric philosophy of body-beautiful, gymnasiums, and doing away with Jewish ritual. If the Hellenists, along with the Greek-Syrians, would have won, there would no longer be a Jewish religion.

The Maccabees, a family of Jewish priests led by Mattathias and then Judah Maccabee, were dedicated to their Jewish religion. The rebellion that the Maccabees won was spiritual and not only military. They were not only fighting a foreign power, they were fighting their brothers who abandoned their Jewish heritage.

Because Judaism survived, this led the way for other religions such as Christianity and Islam, to be founded and thrive. Chanukah symbolizes religious freedom and how even a small band of dedicated people can overpower great military forces. It was the same dedication to fairness and morality that the founding of the United States union movement was led by a similar small band of Jews, many of whom were also immigrants.

The DC 37 Jewish Heritage Committee wishes our sisters and brothers a Happy Chanukah, which this year, began Thursday night, Dec 10.

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