There were no security guards by the synagogues, the Jewish schools, or the JCC’s when I first wrote the manuscript a few years ago for my new children’s book that was just published. The Courage Club, based on the Biblical account of the Jewish hero Daniel, whose story is adapted into this picture book as a school play performance. But when I originally wrote it, to inspire children with Daniel’s and his friends’ courage, it didn’t feel relevant to young Jewish lives today. Now it does.
Now it takes courage to walk around with a yarmulke or show outwardly in other ways that you are Jewish in many public places. It takes courage to support Israel on college campuses. And it takes courage to express a Torah view when everyone else at a gathering is against it even being said. It’s hard to remember how different things were a handful of years ago.
The four boys, Daniel, Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah, were captured by Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem. They were taken away from their families to Babylonia (now Iraq) along with the holy treasures from our demolished First Temple. The Babylonians deliberately took the smartest teens as captives to train them for service in the king’s court, with assimilation as a prerequisite.
The goal was to use both the shining Temple vessels as well as these shining boys – who were also our treasures – in unholy ways. It’s hard to stand up for what’s right in a small group of people, and these boys had to stand up to the most powerful man with the most powerful army in the world at that time. Instead of assimilating, they became shining examples for all the nations to witness what a sincere recognition of our gratitude to the Almighty can accomplish.
These teens’ most major challenges are documented in our sacred writings. As we know, growth follows a pattern of emerging stronger through challenges and struggles. And when they struggled and passed their tests, they also passed the spiritual DNA of heroic courage achieved down to future generations, including us.
As I explain in The Courage Club:
“Inside every Jewish child,
There is a tiny spark.
This spark is sometimes all that’s left,
When the world gets awfully dark.”
But if that spark gets kindled, it can light up the world.
Daniel outlived the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar, Merodach, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus, as a widely respected advisor helping to facilitate the rebuilding of our Temple in Jerusalem. (And this is even though King Darius had thrown Daniel in a lions’ den when he was caught praying.) It is reported by some Torah scholars that he even appears in the Purim story, still serving as an elderly wise man in the king’s court. But this time it was for the Persian king, Achasverus, as Daniel bravely delivers vital information to Purim hero Mordechai helping in the unfolding of our deliverance from destruction once again.
Every year, we read and sing in the Pesach Haggadah the words of the stirring song Vehi She’amda: In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us. And the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands. We have been surrounded by those rising up to seek our extermination repeatedly, with short breaks of less overt annihilation through assimilation challenging us in between.
Today, when we courageously adhere to the Torah’s guidelines even when it is difficult to do, it is from that same “pintele Yid” inside us, that tiny spark. It is the “conscience of the world” that Adolf Hitler sought to extinguish. From a small glow, this super-powered part of the Infinite Oneness within continues to light the way to outlive all who persist in seeking our end.
How can we do it? We shine through teaching our children – our holy treasures – to appreciate the Torah’s wisdom inherited along with our spiritual capabilities and responsibilities. We have inside us the potential to be luminaries. The Courage Club offers eternal membership.