One of the most noticeable differences between Jewish practices in Israel and the Diaspora comes during the Chanukah season. Traveling around Jerusalem as the stars come out during Chanukah one sees the streets lit up with Chanukah lights in every doorway. While the practice in the Diaspora is to light Chanukah lights indoors – a practice that began in fear of gentile persecution – the practice in Israel has returned to the original institution, lighting Chanukah lights outside in the doorway. There is no fear of gentile persecution in Israel and no reason to light as if we are scared.
The Chanukah candles being placed indoors out of fear of persecution is a manifestation of a tragic phenomenon of the 2,000 year-long Jewish exile. During the Jewish people’s forced exile from Eretz Yisrael, the Jewish people all too often had to hide their Judaism and squelch their pride. To survive, Jews had to abandon their identity and adopt the narrative of other nations. Two thousand years of hiding the Jewish peoples’ story has had an adverse effect on Jewish pride and our awareness of the Jewish narrative.
During its estrangement from the land of Israel, the Jewish people tried to fit in with the nations around it. The Jewish people were forced to try being more German than the Germans, more French than the French, and today more American than Americans. The consequence was the loss of the “Malchut Yisrael,” the sense of Jewish majesty. Subsequent Jewish generations – to no fault of their own or their ancestors’ – lost the sense of pride in being part of the royal Jewish nation. Forgetting their own splendor, they didn’t have the dignity to boast their own narrative.
Many Jews became embarrassed of their identity. They looked to escape the shame of being “kikes,” infidels and Christ-killers, and changed their names, language and dress to fit in with the world around them. Their efforts rarely worked – Jews weren’t accepted, and their final failure was Hitler’s insistence that being a Jew was genetic and could not be erased even by conversion to Christianity. Instead of boasting of our illustrious history and rights, Jews buried them.
With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Jewish shame should have been a tragedy of the past – but it wasn’t. Instead of reclaiming Jewish glory, Jews assumed that with its new autonomy the world would welcome them into the “league of nations.” As Jews, now once again called Israelites, missed an opportunity to tell their story, their enemies told it for them. Zionism was declared racism and Jewish autonomy became known as oppression and apartheid. Instead of world acceptance as an independent nation like all other nations, Israelis were ostracized as colonizers of a land not their own. Silence once again damned the Jewish people – in the vacuum of an absent Jewish narrative, opponents filled the gap, slandering Jewish validity.
When the Jewish people didn’t tell their own story, the world never heard the historical Jewish connection to Eretz Yisrael. They never learned that the Jewish people are the indigenous people of the land of Israel. The world didn’t recognize the Jewish people’s rights to self-determination in their historic homeland. The world never understood the Jewish people spent 2,000 years yearning to return to its homeland.
As the world listened to the Jewish nations’ enemies tell the Jewish story, they began to believe the Jewish narrative was illegitimate and its people’s efforts to return to its land unjustified and demonic. They failed to recognize that Zionists’ enemies only found their legitimacy by delegitimizing Zionist legitimacy, their own righteousness in demonizing Zionism, the justice of their cause by declaring the injustice of Zionist efforts to reclaim their historic homeland.
Jews began to claim that nationhood and our homeland were not core elements of Jewish identity. They began to believe the Jewish people were more religion than nation, that a Jewish historic homeland was ancient folklore and Jews had no national rights of self-determination. Along with the nations of the world who readily agreed with these positions, they denied the Jewish people their rights and fought Zionism. The Jewish majesty that had turned to Jewish shame now transitioned into hostility and opposition.
It is time the Jewish people reclaimed Jewish majesty. The time has come for Jews to tell their own story and tell their enemies their slander will no longer be tolerated. The Jewish people have enough reason to be proud of their past, boast of their narrative, and demand their rights without having to resort to their enemies’ tactics of delegitimization and demonization. The Jewish narrative is legitimate, righteous and just – and it is time the world heard it, listened to it, and recognized it. Just as Israeli Jews light the Chanukah lights outside, proud of our story, it’s time Zionists told their story as well, outside and with pride.