Hanukkah’s Message of Jewish Resilience in the Face of Persecution Remains as Relevant Today as in 160 BCE

“Thus they shed innocent blood on every side of the sanctuary, and defiled it. . . . [Jerusalem’s] sanctuary was laid waste like a wilderness, her feasts were turned into mourning, her Sabbaths into reproach, her honor into contempt.” So reads the opening chapter of the first book of Maccabees in its description of the Seleucid persecutions. The image of blood in a place of Jewish worship struck a chord with Danny Schiff, who serves as a rabbi in Pittsburgh, leading him to reflect on the meaning of Hanukkah:

At a time when the sanctuary was desecrated, and the people pitilessly put to the sword, there were two Jewish responses. One response was, essentially, that the time had come for Jews to blend into the surrounding culture because carrying the message of the Jewish people was too painful: “Let us go, they said, and make a covenant with the heathen that are round about us: for since we departed from them, we have had much sorrow” (1Maccabees 1:11).

The other response was the exact opposite. We will never stop being Jews, declared the second group, and we will never let anybody define our Judaism for us, or cause us to retreat one iota from our ideals. Come what may, we will carry Judaism forward on the Torah’s terms, and we will overcome those who would seek to oppose us or those who might propose to give up. They were the Maccabees, and we are their heirs.

The word ḥanukkah means “dedication” or “rededication,” and it recalls two pivotal affirmations. On the physical level, it refers to the fact that on the 25th of Kislev, [the date on the Hebrew calendar on which the Seleucids were defeated and Hanukkah begins], the Maccabees confronted a shattered, ransacked sanctuary and they immediately rededicated the building to the service of God. But, perhaps even more significantly, the Maccabees responded to the reality of violent attack by rededicating themselves to Judaism. . . .

Through the centuries, we have celebrated Hanukkah, despite its tragic origins, because the Maccabees showed us how to rededicate ourselves to Jewish practice, and how to spread the light of Judaism further in even the darkest night.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Hanukkah, Judaism, Maccabees, Religion & Holidays

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey