We’re all familiar with the Chanukah story. The Greek tyrant Antiochus outlaws the practice of Judaism and forces our ancestors to worship their Greek gods and adopt the pagan culture of Hellenism. However, Hellenism had originally taken root in the Jewish community during the Second Temple period through simple exposure to another people’s culture and faith. Yes, it ended up being imposed upon us, but even before that began, Jews under Greek rule were giving up Judaism on their own in favor of Hellenism. Some in more subtle ways, like names changes, and some were making other more serious types of departures from a Torah way of life as Hellenism began to sweep the region.
Living in both the secular and Jewish world poses serious challenges and if there’s any time that highlights this challenge here in America, it’s the end of December, during the Chanukah/Christmas season when too many of our Jewish brothers and sisters seem to have the same feeling for both of these holidays.
We often think that the more we become like everyone else, the more respected and accepted we will be. Jews under Greek rule said the same thing–the more Greek, the more Hellenist I become, the more cultured and sophisticated I will be viewed and ultimately the more accepted I will be. Our great-grandparents said the same thing in Germany not too long ago. In 1930, the great scientist, Albert Einstein was asked by the Zionist leader, Chaim Weitzman, to travel with him to America to raise funds for the Zionist cause. Einstein was approached by some prominent Jewish leaders in the Germany and asked not to go, as it would make the Jewish community appear as though they had a dual loyalty. Einstein nonetheless accepted the invitation but raised only $750,000 in America because those who donated were primarily Eastern European immigrants. The wealthier American Jews were less invested in helping out the Zionist cause. They too were far more focused on becoming accepted in America.
When Shuli and Michal Rand, the lead actors in the film Ushpizen were asked whether their religious lifestyles limit their success in the film industry, Michal answered, “Yes – our success in the film industry is somewhat limited, but not our success in life.” It all depends on what kind of success we want to achieve.
May we all be blessed with true success in our lives and, as we light our Menorah, let us reflect on the message of Chanukah: Jewish pride–the only thing that will ensure that the light of Torah continues to shine in the hearts and homes of all Jews, so it can illuminate the world.