[In 2007, I wrote the following on my other blog, I will re-post here some excerpts which best describe my feelings on Chanukah, our people and the millenia of Jewish struggle. CS]
Bayamim ha’em – in those days…
Roughly about 2100 years ago a ragtag army of Jews who refused to follow the fashionable Hellenistic ideas and culture, Jews who clung to their anachronistic religion and customs, decided to revolt against the Greek (Syriac) Seleucid Emperor Antiochus IV. Anyone with some practical sense or conventional wisdom could have easily predicted the revolt would end disastrously… but he would have been very wrong!!! This ragtag assembly of Jews faced overwhelming numbers of superior and superbly equipped Seleucid warriors (100 Greek soldiers for every Jewish one) destroying them, leaving the few remaining Seleucids fleeing in fright.
What was the motivation of this group, what made them fight with their every fiber of body and soul? The Hellenists unlike other conquerors of the Holy Land did not intend – originally – to exterminate the Jews, they meant no bodily harm… all they sought was for the Jews to abandon their old religious beliefs and become a part of the enlightened NOW of that time, to abandon their outdated, out of fashion creed and embrace the Hellenist enlightenment. They wanted the Jews to become immersed in Greek culture with its literature, its philosophy, its emphasis on physical prowess as practiced in the gymnasiums. They wanted the Jews to lose their spirituality and thereby their distinct identity. Many were seduced by those ideas so in vogue in the enlightened world and gave up their Judaism. Many went so far as to wear a special cup that would mask the mark of their circumcision. Many… but not all!
When Antiochus decreed that henceforth anyone who had their sons circumcised would be killed together with the new baby, most men gave up the ritual, many ceased procreating in fear of the death threat against themselves and their potential offspring. The men were ready to give up… but not their women! Many a woman would, in direct violation of the law, circumcise her son and rather than quietly await death at the hands of the Seleucid Greeks would jump from a mountain top and rob the hated oppressor of the pleasure of killing a Jew… The Nation of Israel was often roused from its slumber, from its complacency, from its hopelessness, by its courageous women… Examples abound!
Soon the rebellion spread and many who had already despaired suddenly found new strength, new hope, new reasons to stand up to the tyrants. As the women set the courageous example of resisting the oppressor, the men soon followed suit refusing to comply and taking up arms instead. The little flame that is forever lit in each and every Jew’s heart suddenly ignited and burned brilliantly. The terrible anger, humiliation and pain they experienced at the loss of their wives, their daughters, their mothers, the fury against an unjust oppressor who wanted to trample their religion and replace it with false gods, kindled within them new fires, new resolution, renewed faith.
Matityahu the Priest and his sons never wavered in their beliefs. They suddenly amassed many recruits, renewed cohesively with sense of faith and purpose, and succeeded against the best and fiercest army of the day. The Temple in Jerusalem was soon restored, cleansed of the Greek impurities and the Holy faith of the Jews again shone brightly within its walls. The wonder of finding one small vial of sanctified oil meant to burn one day and miraculously burning for eight (thus giving the Israelites enough time to prepare more of the consecrated oil) was a Divine message that their sacrifices, their faith and their refusal to give up their belief in Him had been acknowledged!
Since our earliest history as a people, the strongest empires, the mightiest armies, have conquered Israel. They scattered us throughout the world. Through harassment, persecution, rape and murder, they sought to break our spirit. Many broke and left the fold! Neither the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, the Persians, the Babylonians, nor the Romans fully succeeded… nor are they, themselves, still around. The spark of Judaism that shines in every Jewish heart, can never be extinguished… it takes very little to reignite it, to bring it back to its full power.
The medieval blood libels, the Spanish (and Portuguese) Inquisition, the murderous Ukrainian Cossacks of Bogdan Chmielnicky, or Hitler and his willing accomplices, etc., etc., decimated us tremendously throughout our history. Many a European village, filled with Jews, was razed to the ground with its soil forever soaked in our blood. But the stiff necked, stubborn Jew, though numerically crippled every time, survived it all and improved.
Bazman hazeh – at this time…
British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, in his monumental A Study of History (on the rise and fall of civilizations), referred to the Jews as “the fossil of history.” Logically, we should have disappeared long ago. Logically, we should have barely made it, as a small footnote, in some forgotten history tome, but… we Jews are still here. The learned Professor Toynbee was grievously wrong! The Jews are not a fossil, a fossil has no life. A fossil is merely a bone, a fragment, a reminder, a remnant, of what once was very alive. Toynbee was wrong, the Jew LIVES! And… unfortunately, for the learned professor… WE RUINED HIS THEORY!!!
The Jew today is a vibrant force in whatever country he/she may reside, whether in the sciences, in the professions, in technology, in business, in education, in the arts, in literature, in every facet of modern life. Jews come in every hue of the political spectrum, we differ as much from one another as any other people or more. Yet, through it all, whether we follow Ashkenazi or Sephardi traditions, whether we are chassidim or litwisch whether we come from Uruguay, the US, Iraq, India, Poland, or Italy, or any place on this planet, every single one of us carries a small spark of that Hanuka oil burning in our hearts. That is the reason why no conqueror, no oppressors could destroy us, that is why we are still Jews today… and will still be Jews when those very oppressors and haters have themselves been relegated to the dustbin of history.
Enough of my ranting! Chanukka is a time of joy and renewal, so here is a very simple, delicious, heimische latke recipe. Enjoy it with your family as you sing, play dreidel, or just… enjoy!
10 large grated Idaho potatoes (hand grater preferred!)
5 tablespoon grated onion
8 eggs, beaten
6 teaspoons salt
Cover pan with oil, until 1/2″ heigh.
Put the potatoes in a cheesecloth and wring, getting rid of as much moisture as possible. In a bowl, mix all ingredients thoroughly. In a large pan,over medium-high heat, heat up the oil until hot. Place large spoonfuls of the mix into the hot oil, press down on them to form 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick patties. Brown on one side, turn and brown on the other. Let drain on paper towels. serve it hot. Makes 12 generous servings. When you are ready to eat you may put apple sauce on top or, if you are having it with dairy, add some sour cream, or just have them as they are. Enjoy!
May the lights of Chanukka forever burn brightly in every heart!