There is probably no more cliché way to open a speech or article about Israel than to say something like “These past few weeks and months have been difficult ones for Israel.” It’s cliché because one would be hard-pressed to think of a time when that was not true. Rarely are we afforded a time to focus on the glories of Israel, which are many, and not the problems that seem to plague it from all angles and directions.
Because my wife works in an academic setting, the end of December is usually a good time for us to get away for a week or so. Synagogue activity tends to slow down then as well because so many people are away. It is, as I like to call it, a great opportunity to “air out.”
I love Chanukah. I love the fact that it gives us a reason to celebrate when the days are dark and (relatively) cold, and to light a light against the darkness. Last but most certainly not least, Chanukah also reminds us of the power of faith in God, and in the rightness of our cause, to carry us to victory in times of trouble, even against insurmountable odds.
This year, however, as we celebrate the ancient victory of the Maccabees, I am deeply concerned.
Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a piece for this paper about Pilgrims and Native Americans. It spoke of how the legacy of the Thanksgiving story often falls prey to deconstructionists, who value historical truth over cultural myth at all cost. Rather than have children- and, for that matter, adults- celebrate a cherished American belief in a common appreciation of blessings, they would argue that historical reality in all of its messiness- or at least, the probability of its being reality- must trump exercises in feel-good nostalgia rooted in legend.
Much ink has already been spilled on the ill-fated ad campaign launched by Israel’s Ministry of Absorption, aimed at convincing Israelis living here in the United States to return to Israel. I’m afraid I’m going to spill a little more.
I am not among those who routinely dismiss President Obama’s presidency as a failure, nor do I count myself among those who see him as an enemy of Israel. I regard him as a good and honorable man- a thoughtful man- who was swept into office on the wings of his great oratorical skills. In so doing, he carried on his back the desperate hopes of an American people, fearful that the economic meltdown of 2008 was destroying the way of life that they had come to know, and depend on.
As I walked down the hall of my synagogue towards my office earlier this week, I was distracted by the happy sounds of young children having themselves a very good time. I detoured into the room where our Nursery School had gathered for a “holiday feast,” and everyone- faculty and children- was in costume. There were Pilgrims, and Native Americans, and even a few turkeys thrown in for good measure. I couldn’t help but smile- such a sweet scene!
Falling as it did this year so close to the seventy-third anniversary of Kristallnacht, when German and Austrian houses of worship literally went up in smoke and flame, I feel as if I personally haven’t paid enough attention to the sixteenth anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.
There are many things in this world that are sad, and there are some things that are sadder than others. But within that hierarchy, there is nothing sadder, in my humble opinion, than the willful abuse of children. When those who are least able to defend themselves physically and emotionally are allegedly subjected to the most horrific kind of victimization, then we intuitively know that we have reached the bottom of the barrel of human behavior. No child should have to suffer that indignity, and live with that shame and psychic pain.