Gerson: Attack on Israel makes this year's Chanukah somewhat bittersweet

We Jews just concluded our holiday of Chanukah on Friday.

As you undoubtedly know, Chanukah, while technically a minor holiday, is normally filled with merriment, songs, and delectable foods.  Oh the potato pancakes (latkes) and jelly doughnuts (sufganyot)!

For me, in recent years, celebrating with my beautiful grandchildren has added to the joy.

But this year this normally joyous holiday of Chanukah had a bittersweet dimension to it because of the events involving Israel.  And there is a striking parallel between the holiday and now.

Rabbi Ronald Gerson

Rabbi Ronald Gerson

To see this, one must know the ancient history which gave rise to Chanukah. In 168 BCE, in the same land of Israel, the Jews faced the terrible aggression of the Greek Syrians who ruled over them. Worst of all, their religious practice was being stifled with the holy Jerusalem Temple turned into a place of Greek practice. But the Jews and their fighters known as Maccabees defended themselves.

As their leader, Judah Maccabee charged them:  “We fight for our lives and our laws.”  (I Maccabees) And in the end, they were victorious, rededicating the Temple (the word Chanukah means “rededication”), and setting up an independent Jewish state in Israel at that time.

Nearly 2,500 years later, Israel now has faced aggression again, in the form of the terrorist group Hamas. The terrible Hamas onslaught of Oct. 7, brutalizing Israeli men, women, and helpless little children, was every bit as violent and worse than the Greek Syrian destructiveness.  But, once again, Israelis have defended themselves successfully.

But this time, in a way, it has been much harder. In a cruel irony, Israel’s justified response against Hamas has brought on a terrible wave of antisemitism in our country.

This anti-Semitic outburst is for me so frustrating. It is such a double standard. There is basic agreement that nations have a right, and obligation, to defend themselves. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, after the terrorist attack on 9/11, our country quickly acted in retaliation. And we were applauded for it. But somehow, anti-Semites feel Israel does not have this right.

But, in the end, Israel will be vindicated for their noble defense against Hamas. By the thousands, young Israelis have been called to duty in the Israel Defense Force, responding to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call to crush Hamas.  These Israelis are modern day Maccabees, replicating the Maccabean struggle.

This has certainly been a Chanukah that will never be forgotten. Thank you, God, for giving Israel and all freedom loving people in this world strength and courage.

This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Gerson: Attack on Israel make this year’s Chanukah somewhat bittersweet