February 22, 2024

Place a candle in the window, ’cause it’s time for me to go; Though I’m leaving, I’ll be back soon, as long as I can see the light. – Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1970In Jamaica, New York, hundreds of students riot and try to lynch a long-time teacher who was photographed holding a sign that said “I stand with Israel.” The teacher seeks refuge in a secure room and is eventually rescued by police. As I write this, Teaneck high school students, predominantly Jewish, are participating in a “walk-out for Palestine” with approval from the local school board, causing all Jewish students to stay home. In Brentwood, a trendy Los Angeles neighborhood, a synagogue is vandalized with paint that reads “Shame on the Israeli killers,” and fake blood is splattered on the driveway of the president of AIPAC. In Dallas, Neo-Nazis march, shouting “Jews and gays must die.” Several Jewish schools advise their students not to wear their Jewish uniforms and some Jews hide any visible sign of their religion – like a kippah or Magen David – while walking down the street.It would not be surprising if some families hesitate to display a menorah in their window this Hanukkah and reveal themselves as a Jewish household. As antisemitism increases, gun ownership in America, including among Jews, reaches an all-time high; over half of all American households now own a weapon.All around the world, tens of thousands of people hold pro-Hamas marches in almost every major city, from Stockholm to Sydney, calling for a Judenrein Middle East. Several nations have recalled their ambassadors to Israel in protest over the events in Gaza, with some, like South Africa, even reprimanding their Israeli consuls for “insulting the Palestinians.” World leaders, such as Turkey’s Erdogan and Russia’s Putin, condemn Israel as the aggressor, largely ignoring the Simchat Torah massacre and the heinous atrocities committed by Hamas. The message of Hanukkah: Jews of the world, come home to IsraelIs there a better time than now to welcome the upcoming Hanukkah holiday? We could all use a global infusion of light to illuminate a planet shrouded in darkness; and we certainly need Maccabean-like heroes – our courageous IDF soldiers foremost among them – to defeat the growing evil in a world gone mad.This year, Hanukkah has an even more significant message for those willing and able to embrace it. The menorah – the hanukkiah – serves as a beacon for world Jewry, calling on our fellow Jews to return home. Despite the ongoing war, despite the tragic disaster we experienced on October 7, Israel is still – in fact, more than ever – the safest place for a Jew to be. This is because, unlike in the past with Inquisitions, pogroms, and the Holocaust, we are not defenseless against our enemies. We have our own army – the best in the world – and we will defend ourselves until we achieve victory. AdvertisementBut Hanukkah’s story is not just about the triumph of light over darkness and the triumph of the Jews over the Syrian-Greeks. It is first about uniting as a people and realizing that, despite our well-intentioned desire to integrate into the global community, we remain at heart “a nation that dwells alone.” Judah the Maccabee and his illustrious family had to convince the Jews of their time that when we dilute our own culture and downplay our uniqueness, we are dangerously vulnerable and subject to disappearance; but when we accentuate our particularity, we become a pure oil that glows with unparalleled brilliance.It’s no different today. We still have some steadfast friends, like the United States, but for the most part, we are a solitary, isolated voice of morality and justice in a very barren wilderness. As English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson eloquently wrote, “No thing is better than this, when known; that every hard thing is done alone.”Amid the turmoil over the Gaza war, recognizing that the level of antisemitism and opposition to Israel – particularly among the younger generation – is increasing sharply, it is time for every Jew to take off the blinders, search his or her soul, and come home to Israel. Every Jewish community in the Diaspora has a finite shelf life, an “expiration date.” We don’t know exactly when it is, only that it is, and then we must move on, hopefully to our own, Jewish country. That, after all, is the end game of history, the oft-pronounced will of God reflected in our weekly Torah readings and the prayers we recite daily as we face Jerusalem. There will never be a more opportune or auspicious time to come than now, and so we sincerely declare to all our Jewish brethren in the Diaspora: “We love you, we want you, we need you.” It is a win-win.The rabbis tell us that in the end of days – perhaps this is the very period that we are in today – only two of the ancient Jewish holidays will remain; Purim and Hanukkah. What is so special about these two? On both of them, we maintained our faith in God, yet at the same time, we fought for our survival. On Purim, we prayed and fasted, and then organized our own militia to defeat the followers of Haman who sought our extinction. “V’ha-ir Shushan tzahala v’samecha” I translate as “When Tzahal came to Shushan, the Persian capital, we rejoiced.”And on Hanukkah, we battled successfully against the forces of Antiochus before rekindling the menorah in the Beit Hamikdash; only after our military took up arms against the enemy did we experience the divine miracle that allowed our eternal light to shine once again. It is this unique combination of forces – the mighty Jewish people partnering with the eternal God, working together as one to achieve victory – that makes these two holidays unique on our calendar.The slogan now sweeping through the Jewish world is “Bring our hostages home – now!” The word “now” is always accentuated; written in bold, with red letters and underlined. I must say that while I fervently pray for the return of our kidnapped loved ones, I’m quite concerned about that word because if “now” means “at any price” – even, God forbid, the wholesale release of murderous Hamas terrorists – then that is a price we cannot and must not pay. But “now” is certainly the absolutely right word in beseeching our fellow Jews to come home to where you belong; now, while you have the chance. Now, before, God forbid, it is too late. Am Yisrael chai. The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. Write him at jocmtv@netvion.net.il.