For over 2,000 years, we Jews were an extremely vulnerable people. Living in exile, we endured inquisitions, pogroms, and genocide. We could not control either our security or our destiny.
But if we go back some 2,100 years to the time of the Maccabees, we find a period when we were not so vulnerable. The story of Hanukkah recalls a time when a relatively small band of Jews decided that they had enough of being ruled by a cruel tyrant. We rose up in revolt against the powerful Assyrian Greeks. What followed was a resounding Jewish victory, the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the miracle of Hanukkah which we celebrate every year until this day.
Jewish rule in Judea lasted some 200 years after the Maccabees, finally collapsing in the first century CE. Without a homeland, a military, or ability to ensure our safety, we lived (or died) at the whim of various rulers, kings and tyrants. We shuddered in fear of the next crusade, pogrom, or anti-Semitic attack, relying on the good graces of the king or government to protect our communities. And often there was no protection to be found.
The American Jewish experience, of course, has been markedly different from what our people experienced in Europe. Sure, antisemitism existed on these shores as well, often just below the surface, but it was largely limited to rhetoric and discrimination. We felt safe, built robust communities, synagogues, JCC’s, and Day Schools. We thrived as Jewish Americans and felt that here we were finally accepted as an integral part of the American tapestry.
But after the events of October 7th, we feel that familiar, aching sense of vulnerability once again.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the Hanukkah story, it is that fatalism and retreat is not the answer. The answer to hate is resolve, inner strength, pride, determination and resilience.
We saw that power of the Jewish spirit on full display during the solidarity rally last month in Washington DC. Nearly 300,000 of us came together from across the country to sing, pray, and support one another at this difficult time. A meme going around captured our sentiments perfectly: “In the past few weeks we have learned that the world doesn’t care about us as much as we hoped, but we care about each other a lot more than we realized.”
And therein lies the Jewish people’s most powerful weapon. God willing, the heroism and determination of the Maccabees will inspire us and strengthen us to face the difficult days ahead and make the world a safer place for Jews and people everywhere.
Rabbi Mark Zimmerman is the senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Dunwoody.