Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis’ Chanukah Message for 2023

Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis’ Chanukah Message for 2023

For our annual Chanukah issue, we asked members of our community to share their responses.

Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Toco Hills.

Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis

Why Celebrate Hannukah This Year

Do you feel like celebrating Hannukah this year? Jews all over the world are living in a state of turmoil since October 7th. The NY Post (10/23/23) reports: “More Jewish customers have been buying guns amid the rise of antisemitism following the Hamas attacks.” Why? Because Jews are fearful. So I ask, with all that’s going on, should a Jew celebrate Hannukah this year?

Of course! Hannukah celebrates the miracle of the lights in the first Temple lasting eight days instead of one—after the victory of the Maccabees over the much stronger and cruel Syrian Greeks. It was a victory of light over darkness, of Jews standing up for who they are and what they believe. We must celebrate Hannukah with a full heart trusting that as God was with the Maccabees of old, he will be with us as well in our struggle.

While Hamas doesn’t have the military strength of the Syrian Greeks or of the Israeli Army, it has managed to amass a surprising world-wide support for its plight and ignite a surge of antisemitism. This fall has been the worst for Jews since the Holocaust. However, this is not a time to despair. We have seen dark times before, but always, with God’s help we prevail.

And yet, like in the Hannukah story, there is much to be inspired by in our people’s response. Considering how fractured the Jewish people were just a few weeks ago—not unlike the Jews in the Hannukah story—we are now solidly unified both here and in Israel.

In Israel, we have seen it in the amazing stories of devotion to our people. Here’s just two examples:
-A Bar Mitzvah boy leaving his reception hall with $10,000 worth of catered food and bringing it to hundreds of hungry soldiers!
-The mother who gave birth and named her son after the young soldier she never knew, but gave his life saving her cousin in the attack against her moshav.

Religious, not religious, politically left or right, it didn’t matter. In a crisis Jews help each other!

Our hearts are praying for our people in Israel and Gaza. Shema Yisrael is our most important prayer, so let me conclude with two Shema Yisrael stories.

Recently I saw an interview with Rebbetzin Chani Klein of Chabad Eilat that helps survivors of October 7th who were sent to Eilat. Let me share these two stories she mentioned:

On October 7th, there was a family whose home was entered by Hamas terrorists. Hamas set the house afire, but the family hid in their concrete safe room which was fireproof. 18 hours later the IDF came—can you imagine—they heard banging on the door and shouts of, “Tzahal, Tzahal (Israel Defense Forces). We came to save you.” But they didn’t know if they should believe them.

The man inside the safe room, who was one of the founders of the Kibbutz said,

“I’m going to say half a sentence and you complete it.”

The soldier said, “What’s the sentence?”

He said, “Shema Yisrael.”

And the soldier said, “Hashem Elokeynu Hashem Echad!

He then opened the door because he knew he was united with Am Yisrael, his people.

The second story is of a soldier from a very elite army unit. Hamas targeted his home on October 7th because they wanted to get intelligence—no doubt under torture. When the terrorists entered his home, he killed a couple of them, but he was wounded and forced to join his family in their saferoom. The terrorist then set the house on fire. Soon smoke was coming under the door into the saferoom. They were breathing in soot, but they decided to stay as long as they could.

Finally, when they had to open the window, it was eerily quiet. An IDF vehicle came by yelling for survivors. They didn’t know what to do. As this elite soldier crawled out of the window to check it out, he saw four laser lights on him from gunsights. Apparently the IDF didn’t know if he was a terrorist climbing out the saferoom. Terrified, he cried out, Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeynu Hashem Echad, and they were saved!

My friends, Shema Yisrael (Listen O Israel), there may be darkness in our world, but if we are Echad—one as a people—we will certainly be able to bring the light of Hannukah into this world and dispel much of that darkness. So yes, let us all celebrate Hannukah with faith in Gd that this Hannukah will be a time of amazing miracles with the return of all the hostages and complete victory over Hamas.

Mark Hillel Kunis is the rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim and author of “Dancing With God.”


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