LOS ANGELES – Tough people endure long after the toughest of times have receded. For eight nights starting Thursday night, the world and its pain are pushed aside or at least minimized. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights has arrived. Simcha (joy) reigns supreme among Jews.
Blue and white Jewish pride is ready to explode on the scene from Brooklyn, New York to Jerusalem, Israel, and everywhere even a single Jew exists. Blue and white stars will form a large Star of David in the sky. All around the globe, the songs, and dances of joy will be expressed by the People of the Book.
The song of all songs will kick off the festivities.
“Hanukkah oh Hanukkah, come light the Menorah…
“Hanukkah oh Hanukkah, we’ll all dance the Horah…
“Gather around the table, we’ll give you a treat…
“Lots of tasty chocolates and latkes (potato pancakes) to eat…
“Hanukkah oh Hanukkah, come light the Menorah…”
The celebration of the Maccabees this year occurs from sundown, Thursday, December 10 until sundown on December 18, 2020.
For Jewish football fans, there is a double bonus. The National Football League begins and ends the holiday since the first and last nights of Hanukkah are bookended by major football games. Jews in New England and Los Angeles will start Hanukkah by lighting candles and then watching the Patriots take on the Rams.
The final night of Hanukkah has Jews in California and Nevada lighting candles before a major showdown between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders.
For everyone else connected to the Jewish faith, there is more than enough revelry to go around during Hanukkah.
Time to break out the dreidels (spinning tops) and spin them faster than a politician on a talk show.
Every year brings something different to Hanukkah.
2013 brought “Thanksgivingukkah,” as Hanukkah began before Thanksgiving for the first time since 1888. This convergence between Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will not occur again for almost another 78,000 years.
2016 celebrated Hanukkah as late as possible, stretching into the new year. 2019 had Hanukkah overlapping with Christmas, but ending one night shy of New Year’s Eve.
2020 brings a traditional calendar Hanukkah after Thanksgiving and Pearl Harbor but before Christmas. As for the way Hanukkah will be celebrated this year, it will be anything but traditional.
The COVID pandemic has caused worldwide pain.
The suffering is real and the wounds are deep. It is rational to question whether it is appropriate to engage in revelry when there is so much agony. A major Jewish sage, the late Chabad Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, teaches that we must be happy. We are commanded to be joyful. God commands us to find joy amidst the pain. Being able to experience joy is often a matter of life and death.
Hanukkah is the ultimate tale of survival against overwhelming odds. The Maccabees did not surrender. Neither can we.
On a less heavy note, another Hanukkah challenge involves the linguistically challenged. Both spellings of the holiday have eight letters. Adding a “C” requires subtracting a “K.” It is Chanukah or Hanukkah. To those who are black and Jewish, wish them a Happy Chaka Khan. We all need higher love.
Regarding the holiday itself, some myths need to be dispelled.
People hear that the Jewish fighters only had enough oil for one day. Due to the miracle of all miracles, the oil magically lasted for eight days. This is the warm, fuzzy, sanitized story told to children.
Hanukkah in actuality is the Jewish version of Independence Day, July 4. The Jews battled some Greeks and crushed them. Jewish lives were threatened, and they responded in self-defense with hard military power.
This raw unsanitized version of Hanukkah frequently gets ignored because it makes pacifist Jews uncomfortable. Jewish comedians play on stereotypes of angst-ridden and guilt-ridden Jews fearing their own shadows.
Most Jews historically were actually not weak, sniveling crybabies begging our enemies to like us. This battered housewife syndrome characterized by blaming the victim is a relatively new, unpleasant phenomenon.
The Maccabees under threat of extermination hit back and hit back hard.
In our own time, the second coming of Judah Maccabee can be found with the Israeli Defense Forces. The keywords are defense and force. The word Maccabee means “hammer.” So perhaps the second coming was actually the late Dr. Charles Krauthammer, a man who held the concept of using force to preserve peace and life.
The lessons of Hanukkah applied perfectly to the 2003 Iraq War.
If the world had any common sense, the Maccabee method of problem-solving would have been applied to the mullahs in Iran and Bashar Assad in Syria before it was too late. Waterboarding ISIS fighters would not have been a moral concern for the Maccabees.
Those Jews fought wars to win them.
This is why the IDF does not consult with the United Nations or the State Department before launching necessary military strikes. Winning wars is why Jews still exist. For those troubled by this: Deal with it.
In truth, the actual celebration of Hanukkah is a tad bittersweet for those who are educated about this holiday. Jews won on the battlefield but lost that war.
There was a major difference between how Jews and Greeks celebrated holidays.
Greeks celebrated holidays created in the wake of military victories. Jewish tradition eschewed this practice of glorifying blood triumphs.
The Greeks ordered Jews to assimilate or die. Jews fought for the right to remain independently Jewish without forced assimilation into Greek culture. After Judah Maccabee and his brothers helped the Israelites crush the Greeks in battle, the first thing the Maccabees did was hoist a victory flag and declare this military victory a Jewish holiday.
After fighting for the right to prevent assimilation, Jews adopted a Greek tradition anyway. Assimilation is still deadly to Judaism. Some would argue that what Hitler failed to do to the Jews, Jews do internally through a 52 percent intermarriage rate.
Despite the major military victory, Hanukkah is actually one of the least important holidays in the Jewish calendar. The Festival of Lights is an excuse to party. Due to the pandemic, many large gatherings will be scaled down or moved online. Thanks to the Internet, we can all still stay connected.
Returning to the military aspect of this holiday, Hanukkah is also a political holiday.
This fact is one that the 70 to 80 percent of Jews desperate to sing Kumbaya with those who hate our guts would do well to heed.
Hanukkah’s lesson is simple: Force works. There is no dialogue or negotiation with those refusing to recognize your right to exist. Survival is not pretty. It often involves spilling large amounts of blood. Collateral damage is unfortunate but must not serve as a deterrent.
The other Maccabean Era lesson is mercy.
Jews did not rape Greek women, chop heads and limbs off, enslave anyone or indiscriminately engage in deliberate cruelty. We Jews defended ourselves. In keeping with values that unite Jews and Americans to this day, both remain good people using power for noble purposes.
America, through economic and military power, and Jews through their sense of justice, help feed, clothe, protect and defend others worldwide, many of whom are neither Jewish nor American.
Perhaps that’s because internally, in addition to the intermarriage rate, Jews are secular in alarming numbers. Far too many atheists and agnostics abandon their Jewish identity.
The good news is that the majority of Jews having children are religious.
Secular Jews fight for abortions, gay marriages and other practices that prevent breeding. Religious Jews breed as much as possible. A century from now, the Jewish community could very well be more religious, possessing a far stronger sense of Jewish identity and pride. A couple of centuries ago, all Jews were Orthodox.
Perhaps this era will also experience a Second Coming.
As for me, as candles are lit, hope springs eternal that a certain young Republican Jewish brunette shows up at my door wearing only strategically placed blue and silver sparkly Hanukkah bows. Indeed, there is much joy to look forward to over the next eight nights.
Happy Hanukkah everybody! Shalom!