Way past the night that the final Chanukah flame has lingered and dimmed, we must ask ourselves this question: “Am I a Maccabi?” In this upside down world of ours that is spinning out of control in front of our eyes, fortitude is required. The courage and strength of the Maccabi’s remain as a lighthouse, beaming a path for us all.
What does it mean to be a Maccabi today? How can we carry the bright light of Chanukah with us all year?
As I write these words I hear of a Jewish man who was assaulted as he walked through New York City’s Central Park. The suspect yelled antisemitic comments at the victim and shouted “Kanye 2024.” The victim fell, chipping his tooth and breaking his hand.
At a pre-Chanukah class, I explained that we have the custom of lighting our menorah by our window to publicize the miracle. The look of fear on the faces of the women who sat before me was frightening. Here we are in the United States of America, 2022. Land of the free and home of the brave. And we are terrified of declaring our Judaism with pride? Who would believe it?
Each week we read of attacks, both physical and on social media that vilify the Jew. Sports stars and famous personalities feel free to disparage us, admire Hitler, and declare war on us. In November alone, the NYC Police Department reported 45 antisemitic crimes. This means an average of one incident every 16 hours. Jews represent less than 20% of the city’s population but account for 60% of all hate crimes in the city last month. The silence that surrounds us is deafening.
Think about this: the global Jewish population in 1939 was almost 17 million. Nearly 80 years after the Holocaust we have not recovered our numbers. Assimilation and apathy is eating us up from the inside. Greater than the threat of antisemitism is the threat we face within.
To be a Maccabi today means that you stand with pride for your people and your land. You live inspired. You refuse to allow the world to crush your spirit. You dig deep and connect with your G-d. You love your people, even if they are not the same as you. Your Torah is your oxygen. Shabbos is the ring on your finger proclaiming your faithfulness. Every mitzvah is a star that fills your home with majesty. Your Judaism is vibrant. Passion and purpose guide you. You know how to say ‘no’ to that which clouds your sacred mission.
And you never stop believing in the miracle of the Jew.
When my daughter was born, I brought my grandmother, Mama, to my home to meet her newest great-grandchild. Mama had suffered through Bergen Belsen, lost precious loved ones to the Nazi’s cruel atrocities, and was forced to begin life again here in the U.S. I could never fathom how Mama handled being a young mother in the concentration camps, dealing with starvation, vermin, inhumane conditions, and terrifying fear for her small children.
And yet. Mama taught me how to love life. How her eyes would sparkle as she would engage each grandchild and great-grandchild. She would laugh with delight as she tenderly touched every finger and toe of the infant cradled in her arms. Mama was never too exhausted to play one more game. She made even the simplest objects, like the discarded dolls she found on sidewalks and then painstakingly restored, into childhood treasures.
That day, as I gingerly placed my infant into Mama’s arms, my grandmother shared words that would change my life forever.
“You know, sheyfelah,” she said, “there were days in my life that I didn’t know if I’d ever see the sun shine again. The world was so dark. But one thing I knew. I knew that Am Yisrael would make it. Our nation would survive. And here I am…holding my great-granddaughter in my arms. Who would ever believe it? Hashem is so good.”
To be a Maccabi means that we never stop believing.
We are here. We have survived every type of persecution and suffering. They threaten to throw us into the sea. They want to obliterate our land, our nation. They terrorize and attack us. But the spark of the Jew will never die.
Because we are the sons and daughters of Maccabees. We are the children of prophets and kings. We are “mamleches kohanim, goi kadosh.” We are “banim atem laMakom” – the offspring of Hashem. Beloved. Forever.
Carry the light of Chanukah within all year wherever you may go.