Sunday, December 05, 2010

Hannukah miracles and silver linings

This Hannukah we've certainly had an unwanted kind of light shining in the darkness, a raging, blazing fire right in the middle of the Festival of Light. Instead of lighting candles the country is busy dousing flames.

I would say there was a silver lining in this Hannukah's tragedy, only there really aren't any grey clouds to be seen unless you count plumes of smoke.

The lights of the Hannukiya though are there to remind us of the great Hannukah miracle all those millennia ago, how a foreign power came and tried to extinguish Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael, snuff out all observance of the Torah and enforce Hellenisation of the Jews. It didn't work though because we fought back and succeeded in restoring our religious and cultural autonomy, even if Judea remained a vassal state to the mighty Seleucids. You can't always have it all, but you should be gratetful for what you do have.

There was a Rasputin clone (if Rasputin wore ragged jeans and t-shirts) in the post office on Thursday ranting about how the burning of the Carmel, site of Elijah's famous showdown with the false prophets of Ba'al, was a message from God, a sign that the end is nigh. Bunch of folks there, religious and secular alike, were quick to point out that he was seeing things that weren't, that there is no prophecy in our age and would he kindly just shut up and let folks get on with doing post officey things.

Well maybe there are still prophets among us and maybe not, but it doesn't mean God isn't active in the world and doesn't mean we can't learn from events. Question is what are we meant to learn?

Maybe that we're better off than we often think. On this holiday when we celebrate the survival of our nation and culture and faith in the face of Antiochus' decrees which tried to force us to assimilate into the Hellenic world, isn't there something wonderful about a modern independent Jewish state receiving aid from those very Hellenic nations?

It's sad that we need it, sad that maybe the shortsightedness of our leaders required us to have to call in favours from friend and not so much friend alike, but fact is they came running to our aid, treating us like an equal, a fellow sovereign state among the nations. And what's more, many came while expressing their gratitude for the aid we have offered over the years to so many nations in their time of need. It's never easy to ask for help, but how incredible when so many gladly heed the call.

I'm not suggesting this is any great comfort to the 41 who lost their lives, to the many more who lost their homes, their livestock, their life's work. But it is a comfort to a nation which increasingly has to battle hateful lies and attempts at total delegitimisation as part of an ongiong propaganda war against the Jewish state.

It's a war of attrition our enemies have been waging for decades now, rewriting history, denying our right to this land, to our holiest shrines. Even respectable, educated people get taken in by it as we saw with the recent UNESCO decisions denying Judaism's link to the cradles of Jewish history, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron (whose exactly? Um, I wonder) and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem. Who in their right minds would think that biblical figures like Abraham and Rachel might have anything to do with the Jews?!

The sweet folks behind the assorted anti-Israel delegitimisation campaigns are trying to make us despondent, make us believe that their campaign has made us a pariah state. Their constant harping about divestment and sanctions and boycotts is designed not just to hurt us economically, but to demoralise, make us doubt our survival and purpose and ability to survive. They want us scared of what the future will bring. They want us isolated from the world, cut off from the rest of civilisation.

They want us to think that we have no one to rely on, no friends, no allies.

This weekend's crisis was a massive slap in the face to those enemies. I'm not deluding myself into thinking that suddenly the world loves us, because, well, they have their own interests and we are still just a small country and there are lots of bigger or richer countries who really don't like us and the nations of the world don't think it's in their interest to alienate them by being too friendly with us. I get that. But still, even Jordan and Egypt, despite domestic opposition, sent us aid. Even Turkey with whom we really haven't been getting on well of late. Even Russia which is kind of buddy buddy with some of our worst enemies.

I don't pretend they did it from love, but I hope perhaps they did it in the knowledge that Israel has extended assistance again and again, whether it was the Armenian earthquake in '88 or the 1999 earthquakes in Turkey and Greece, or in '97 when Israel sent firefighting helicopters to Turkey to put out a massive out of control blaze or the 2005 relief efforts to southern Asia after the tsunami, to name just a few.

Many in the world may choose to hate us, but they do know that Israel has and will come through for them over and over again to offer humanitarian aid in time of crisis. Surely as a Jewish nation founded on the notion of being Or Lagoyim, a Light Unto the Nations, that is part of our purpose, to set an example for how decent people the world over should behave. It's a principle laid down in our most sacred texts - even if you see the ox or the donkey of your enemy collapsing under its burden you are required to help. If we've helped to spread that concept around, then we're fulfilling at least part of our mission.

This Hannukah's miracle is very much bittersweet, there's no denying it, and yes, maybe we imagine a miracle as Hashem opening the heavens at exactly the right time and dousing the flames with rain, but we need to open our eyes wider and appreciate the miracle of civilised peoples helping one another. In a crazy fickle world that isn't something to be taken for granted.

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