Years ago, on a perfect Hanukkah day, my brother and I were getting off the Coney Island bumper cars on the way to kosher country, when we heard “Dirty Jews!”
Before having a chance to react in anger or fear, two boys were running full speed away from us.
Knowing they were not running from a 7-year-old in a plaid shirt or his slow moving 11-year-old brother, I imagined that the hand of God had descended from the cyclone. But, spotting a speeding Judah Maccabee chasing down those thugs, to my amazement and some chagrin, the Maccabee was none other than my usually passive intellectual of a dad. He held the boys hard by the collars against the screaming protestations of their own bigger and way meaner looking dad, who was screaming “Let my boys go or else!”
My dad did not budge, finally releasing the two to cops who happened to be walking by.
I learned perseverance and Jewish pride at that moment, but confidence was the day’s greatest lesson. Not the confidence of physical strength, which my dad took no pride in, not confidence in the 1970s NYPD, which did not exist. It was the simple, undeniable yet taken for granted confidence of a proud Jew. We are your equals, we are here, we have a state of our own, so, in NYC parlance, F*** you.
Rewind to a Coney Island before the establishment of the State of Israel, and I’m sure a very different story would have been told: our own collars held by a timid father forcing an apology from his own sons. “We are so sorry for wearing our kippot on the bumper cars thank you for calling us dirty Jews please, feel free to do it again at the Ferris wheel”
Which brings us to the double knockout weekend.
Knockout #1 took place last Friday in Crown Heights, when a religious photo intern got knocked down. “A 100 lb little Jew” as Israel Blizovsky described himself, punched for the fun of it… Ha ha. City Government’s nonchalant response was pretty close to What’s the big deal, you Jews worry too much.
Knockout # 2 took place on the other side of the globe, in the Genteel city of Geneva, where diplomats, not thugs, knocked down Israel a peg or two while dismissing the Jewish State’s existential threat with the same What’s the big deal, you Jews worry too much.
Over thanksgiving and Christmas, let us hope that the nations of the world will continue to support the idea of an independent and secure Jewish nation, a nation that will sometimes be battered, sometimes bruised but with its own pride and the means to always get back up.
As we put our faith in these nations, especially our greatest friend the United States of America, we must remember the central lesson of Hanukkah; never rely on others or on miracles, but when our very existence is in the balance, we must be prepared to fight a lonely battle to victory.Rabbi Reuven Kahane