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(This blog post is a re-post from something I wrote in 2007)
The background of the Chanukah story recalls the struggle for religious freedom from the Hellenistic Syrian-Greeks in the year, 165 B.C.E. Antiochus, who was the occupying King at those times, sought to crush our Jewish identity and passed decrees against the practice of Judaism. We were forbidden from studying the Torah, we were forbidden to keep the Shabbat (Sabbath) and we were forbidden from making a brit milah (circumcision). To do so meant the death penalty.
"Hellenistic rituals and sacrifices were instituted in the Bet HaMikdash (the holy Temple in Jerusalem), thus desecrating the sacred center of Jewish ritual life. Many Jews were impressed by the culture and power of their Greek conquerors and adopted their customs and practices. These Jews came to be known as "Hellenists". – Sound familiar to our situation today?
“Other Jews were infuriated by the oppressive decrees aimed at destroying their religion, and vowed revenge. They were led by Mattityahu, a Chashmona'i (Hasmonean) who lived in Modiin with his five sons, who came to be known as the Maccabim. This name is derived from the first letter of each word in the phrase "Mi kamocha ba'elim Hashem?" ("Who is like You, O L-rd, among the mighty?". After three years of guerrilla warfare in the hills and forests against the strong and powerful armies of the Syrian-Greek King Antiochus, the relatively small and poorly armed Maccabim won, and recaptured Jerusalem. But WHAT started this revolt? What shocked the Maccabim into action?
One of my favorite stories of Chanukah is the story about Chana (Hannah). Not the extremely powerful story of Hannah and her 7 sons, but a different ‘Chana’.
This 'Chana' used what I think is an important strategy to wake people up from their stupor. Shock.
Too many of us do not want to change our daily routine. We are comfortable in our lives and we don’t want disruption, and so it easier to bear burdens if they come in servings that we are able to swallow. If an evil regime passed all their terrible laws at once, people would be convinced they must fight. But if the laws are ushered in one by one, in bite sized pieces, we learn to adapt. We act this way because it is easier to be a little uncomfortable than have to go to battle and face having to risk it all, to lose everything we have worked for and even possibly risk our lives and that of our children. No one likes disruption, and so we swallow the evil.
Sometimes we need someone to slap us, to wake us from our stupor and fight the evil that has embedded itself in our midst. A young woman who lived many years ago did just that. And we should all thank her.
The story from the Midrash goes like this:
(Taken from http://www.morim-madrichim.org/en/content/AC/229/chanukah-and-heroines?firstreq=1 )
The Marriage of Chana, Daughter of Mattathias (Mattityahu)
As part of their campaign to break the spirit of the Jews, the Greeks decreed that every maiden must spend her wedding night in the bed of the regional governor, and that only afterward would she be permitted to her husband. They wanted to destroy Jewish sanctity and degrade the Jews. As a result of this decree, the Jews stopped marrying. For three years and three months, no wedding was held in Judea. Then it came time for Hannah, daughter of Mattityahu the Hasmonean to marry. In spite of the decree, Mattityahu held a great celebration, inviting the leaders of the nation, for Mattathias' family was extremely prominent. The bride sat, as was customary, at the head table, but suddenly stood up, clapped her hands together, and tore her expensive wedding dress, exposing herself.
Everyone looked away in embarrassment, and her brothers ran to fall upon her and kill her for shaming herself and her family.
But Hannah exclaimed to them all, 'now you are so zealous as to shield your eyes?, for THIS you are zealous, yet you are willing to have a Greek see me naked and have his way with me?' She added, "Why, when I shame myself before my relatives and friends are you so filled with embarrassment and anger that you wish to kill me, but you agree to surrender me this night so the heathen governor can lie with me? Why do you not learn from Simon and Levy, sons of our forefather Jacob, who avenged the rape of their sister Dinah (in Genesis, chapter 34)? They were only two brothers who fought and took a whole city to free her, I have FIVE brothers - and where are you?'
This, my friends, is what spurred the revolt of the Maccabees on the Syrian-Greeks and led to the first holiday commemorating religious freedom and the lift of the yoke of Hellenism and Greek occupation.
The story of Hannah goes on:
"Everyone realized that Hannah was right; her brothers discussed the matter and came to a decision. They dressed their sister in the finest garments and brought her with great ceremony, at the head of a large procession, to the King. Hannah's brother's declared, "We are the sons of the High Priest, and it is not fitting that our sister be given to the governor. Our sister is fit only for the King himself!" The brothers' words found favor in the King's eyes.
The brothers accompanied Hannah to the royal bed chamber, and thereupon, seized the King and killed him. Afterward, they stormed out killing ministers, guards, and servants, who were in the palace. So began the Hasmonean revolt. "
A sequel to this story is the story of yet ANOTHER Jewish Heorine named Yehudit (Judith). Yehudit was a beautiful woman who single-handedly saved the Jewish town of Bethulia during the Hasmonean revolt.
When her city was surrounded and besieged by the Syrian army of General Holofernes, she made a plan to save her people. She left the city walls of Bethulia with her maid in what looked like her fleeing to Holofernes' camp. She told the cruel General Holofernes that she wanted to save herself and told him that the defeat of the Jews of the city was near. Impressed with Yehudit's beauty and her prediction of his defeat of the Jews, he invites her to celebrate with him 'alone'. Yehudit tells him she must eat her own food which she made, and shows him the cheese delicies she has brought with her. She feeds him this salty cheese, which induces the general to wash it down with wine and he falls into a deep sleep. She then approaches his bed and says a prayer:
"Answer me, O L-rd, as You answered Yael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, when you delivered the wicked general Sissera into her hands. Strengthen me this once that I may bring Your deliverance to my people whom this cruel man vowed to destroy, and let the nations know that You have not forsaken us..."
Yehudit then unsheathed Holofernes' heavy sword which was hanging near his bed and brought it down upon his neck with all her might.
She leaves his bloody corpse soaking his mattress and takes the head and her maid away from the slumbering enemy camp to Bethulia. She tells the Jews of Bethulia that victory will soon be theirs. She takes the head of Holofernes and puts it on a stake in public view to strengthen the will of the people. She then tells the Jewish men to wait for dawn to make a surprise attack. The enemy's camp is not prepared for a Jewish onslaught on them. When the morning comes with the charge of the Jews towards their camp, Holofernes's men run to their commander's tent where they find his headless body on the blood soaked mattress. In their shock, fear and confusion, they flee for their lives. The Jews won the revolt and Yehudit was their hero.
This Chanukah, we must remember the valor and strength of the Jewish women who risked their lives, to keep Israel Jewish. To Chana and her 7 sons, to Yehudit, and to Chana the daughter of the high priest who shocked the Jews into action, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
From Sue's back yard, you can see the strangest sight. It was so strange, that Sue photographed it, and then sent me the picture. It was a photograph of an Israeli flag flying high and proud in this remote desert city. How is it that in this 'middle of nowhere town', there's an Israeli flag flying in it? I asked Sue to report on it, and what a job she did! Read and enjoy, and I'd like to send a big, 'Shalom from Israel!' to Mr. & Mrs. Persson.
"Redneck Jew of Havasu"
October 5th, 2013
By Susan L. Rivello
Terry Persson does something that may not seem like a big deal to most people, while others, may perceive it as offensive particularly, in light of the rise of anti-Semitism in America and throughout the world.
Terry and wife Billie proudly fly the Israeli Flag with the American Flag in front of their home in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
Israeli flag flying in Havasu
His father a gentile and mother a Jew, he grew up celebrating the traditions and holidays of both the Christians and Jews. He and his wife are Christians, but Terry adamantly and affectionately refers to himself as “A Redneck Jew.”
Terry served as an Air Force Pilot during the Vietnam War. He was shot down twice in his military career, the second time suffering injuries causing permanent disability.
After receiving his disabling injuries, this battle scared military pilot regrouped. He returned to school and became an Engineer, giving Boeing Aircraft Co. 37 years before retiring six years ago to the desert community of Lake Havasu City, Az. from the state of Washington.
I asked this battle scared, Redneck Jew, if he was initially afraid to fly the Israeli Flag and without the least hesitation said, “Hell No”. He flew the Israeli flag regularly when he lived in Washington but hadn’t since he moved to Lake Havasu.
That changed however about six months ago when he was driving through one of the main streets of this small isolated desert town and saw an Egyptian Revolution Flag (1953-1958) flying in front of a house, minus the American Flag. He said he immediately drove to the Flag store and bought the Israeli Flag and let her beauty wave.
Egyptian Revolution Flag (1953 -1)
This Redneck Jew then decided he should have a friendly discussion with the owner of the Egyptian Revolution Flag. Terry’s advice to the owner was, “NOT IN THIS TOWN ARE YOU GOING TO FLY THAT FLAG”. As expected, his words weren’t well received. The door was quickly shut in his face. But victory was achieved and the Egyptian Revolution Flag FLYS NO MORE.
Flags have been flown throughout time immemorial and for many reasons. They have been flown as symbols of patriotism, revolution, rebellion, love, pride, support and advertising. They can and do stir deep emotions, both good and bad.
The reaction the Persson’s have received from neighbors and friends for flying the Israeli flag has been positive and supportive of Israel. To date only one couple in their neighborhood has voiced opposition saying, “The flag is out of place.” Oddly enough the person voicing the displeasure was a fellow Jew.
We read from the Torah in Genesis 12:3, “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Whether the people and Nations of the world like it, this is God’s official written policy to mankind.
The America that exists now is not the America most of us grew up in and fondly remember. We are witnessing the encroachment of the religion of Islam in American and European society. The Jewish and Christian faiths are systematically being devalued and marginalized by the political leaders of these nations, in favor of Islam.
With the turmoil and violence embroiling Egypt, Syria and the other Islamic states of the Middle East, it’s comforting to know there are still some men willing to take a politically incorrect stand to defend the values of America and the God given land of the people of Israel.
Terry and Billie have yet to visit the Holy Land of Israel but have chosen to bless her in other ways through charity donations and let’s not forget, flying her flag over their home town.
This is beautiful Lake Havasu City, Arizona home of the London Bridge and now the Israeli Flag.
Even though flying the Israeli Flag as stated before may be unimportant to some, it does take courage to fly it in a world where anti-Semitism is on the rise. We live in a world of violence, confusion and contradiction. A world that is upside down, where right is wrong and wrong is right. But this Redneck Jew of Havasu isn’t afraid to stand his moral ground for what he believes in the defense of Israel. How about you? Do you or would you fly the Israeli Flag outside the land of Israel to bless her?
Terry and Billie Persson
Russia could decide to strike at American interests (Saudi Arabia) if Obama strikes at Russian interests (Syria).
Lest we forget, World War I, or, 'The Great War', was started by less.
The article below is written by Rabbi Daniel Kahane
Brazilian-American authors Rabbi Daniel Kahane and Ann Helen Wainer have recently launched a book that promises to change the way scholars and laymen understand the Jewish calendar as well as the structure of central Jewish texts.
The book shows how the 52-day period spanning from Passover to Shavuot is in fact a microcosm of the 52 weeks of the year. Additionally, it demonstrates how 52 rabbis and 52 animals listed in the sacred works Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”) and Perek Shirah (“Chapter of Song”) parallel the year’s weeks as well. Finally, the book explores the kabbalistic meaning behind the numbers and divine attributes (sefirot) related to each day from Passover to Shavuot known as the Counting of the Omer.
The Counting of the Omer has always been one of the key tools used by the Jewish People as a basis for spiritual development. The book expands its use to the entire year and shows amazing and eerie connections between how the weeks of the year and the days of the Omer parallel each other. “The basis for the entire book is one simple idea,” Rabbi Kahane says, “Just as the culmination of the Counting of the Omer, Lag Ba’Omer, falls on the 33rd day of the Omer, so too the week of Lag Ba’Omer falls on the 33rd week of the year.
“The book’s use as a weapon against sadness should also not be underestimated,” exclaims Ann Helen Wainer, “its uplifting ideas and its connectedness to the song and harmony of nature, as well as the wisdom and foresight of our ancestors, is a true gift.”
The book was originally launched in Portuguese, after the authors received a grant from the Safra Philanthropic Institute in Brazil. An expanded English version (eBook and print) is available on Amazon, ModernJewishHome.com, as well as other vendors. More information and ongoing classes are also available at www.kabbalahoftime.com.
The “Kabbalah of Time” is currently listed as Amazon’s #1 “Hot New Release in Kabbalah.” The Kindle Edition also consistently listed #1, and now four months after its release, is among the Top #10 Best Sellers in its category.
About Ann Helen Wainer and Rabbi Daniel Kahane
Mrs. Wainer is a prolific author, having published several works regarding Judaism and Jewish History, as well as Brazilian Law and History. Her titles include: Jewish and Brazilian Connections to New York, India, and Ecology; Family Portrait; A Jewish Perspective on Ecology; Civil Liability of the Developer; and Brazilian Environmental Legislation. Ann Helen earned a master’s degree in corporate law in Brazil, and an MA in religious studies at Florida International University.
Rabbi Daniel Kahane is a graduate from Georgetown Law School and Princeton University, where he received the religion departmental award in Jewish studies, as well as a Certificate in the subject. He also attended Yeshiva University and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Besides from working full-time as an attorney, Rabbi Kahane teaches weekly classes at Chabad of Aventura, FL.
For more information about “The Kabbalah of Time,” please visit www.kabbalahoftime.com, https://www.facebook.com/TheKabbalahOfTime, or contact Ann Helen Wainer at (305) 332-8660. You may also send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sure, living in Israel has a lot of challenges, especially if you weren't born here. But moving to Israel and making Aliyah is the best decision I ever made in my life.
It was here in Israel where I was exposed to a thriving Jewish culture (I grew up in Southern Calif., not exactly the capital of Judaism) and it was here in Israel, that I joined my People, really matured, helped to build the country, met my husband, and planted the seeds for my future descendants.
Israel is budding with inventions! The Blind Will Be Able To See in 1/2 Hour!
There are some pet peeves though, which after a moment of thought, I realize are a blessing.
It peeves me when I start typing on my computer keyboard after my kids have used the computer, and the language is in Hebrew, and I have to switch the keyboard back to English and type my sentence all over again. And then I think, "Ah, my kids speak Hebrew! What a blessing that that is their mother tongue and they feel more comfortable typing in Hebrew than English!"
It peeves me when I get stuck in a traffic Jam, and then I think, "Look at all this life here in Israel! Jerusalem is populated with Jews and thriving, and look how many Israelis have cars and drive wherever they want!"
I love getting into heated arguments at the table on politics with fist pounding, yelling, and then when we are finished, laughing and thoroughly exhilarated from the intellectual stimulation.
I love that Israelis are deep people, educated, knowledgeable, curious, and FRIENDLY! I love that though we may be known for being assertive or even aggressive sometimes, we know we have each other's backs. We may argue, but we all know we are still one big family - and maybe that's WHY we argue. I remember when my 20 year old daughter came home and told me that the car she and her girlfriends were in, stopped right in the middle of a very busy intersection near the entrance to the city (the car had stalled). When the cars behind her began to honk and honk, and then finally go around them to pass, one man yelled at them as he was passing, "Idiots! Move already!" and my daughter looked at him, lifted her hands up in dismay, smiled sweetly and said, "We've stalled". Immediately, the furrowed eyebrows of the driver loosened up, and he yelled out, "Oh! Can I help and assist you?"
I love the story my mother tells, when she and my father would go to the butcher shop and then one day, the butcher got angry about something she said or did, and shouted at my mother. So the next time my parents went to the butcher, my mother decided to sit in the car instead. When my father went in without her, the butcher gave a big hello, and said, "Where's your wife?" My father told him, "She's sitting in the car, because the last time we were here, you got angry at her". The butcher made an incredulous look on his face and replied, "But that was last week!"
I love Israel, because living in the mountainous region of Jerusalem, and being a brand new mother and not knowing better, a woman from the apartment building nearby where I was standing, yelled out from her upper window to me, "Put a hat on your baby!".
Or when I was pregnant and sitting on a low fence near another apartment building waiting for a bus, another woman passing me and walking into the building said, "You're pregnant and look hot and tired. Come into my apartment and have a drink and wait there until the bus comes."
I love that in Israel, before we all go and party and barbecue for Independence Day, we first remember somberly, those who gave their lives for the State of Israel and the Jewish People. All day, we listen to radio or see on television, the stories and lives of those who fell in battle. We learn about their sacrifice, we cry with their parents and families. And then, the country sounds a siren, and everything stops. Cars come to a stop, and drivers stand outside their vehicles. Passersby stop walking and stand at attention. People in stores and schools and offices all stop talking, and stand at attention in silence. With the wailing of the siren all over the country, people stand in respect, or say a silent prayer all at the same time, up to heaven asking G-d to bless the souls of the fallen, give comfort to their surviving families, and prevent any more people from having to die in battle, or from terror attacks. Later in the day when night comes, we have a national ceremony that is televised, where soldiers salute, and then raise the Israeli flag to full mast, and the celebrations of Israel Independence Day begin!
I love knowing that every Independence Day, everyone, but everyone, will be outside barbecuing. And that the following day in Israel, the skies will be gray from all the smoke from the grills, the day before. The same for the day after the Lag B'Omer holiday when all the kids and families make small bonfires and sit around and sing and eat.
I love walking into grocery stores and seeing the abundance of fruits and vegetables in Israel, as well as their robust taste, so that when you eat a salad, the vegetables burst with flavor, and you don't have to LOOK to see what you are eating, because you know you are chewing a tomato or cucumber because of their separate and delicious tastes!
I love going into Israeli cafes and restaurants, and getting Israeli sized portions on my plate. And delicious too!
I love the story that only happens in Israel, about someone who was driving on the highway, and a policeman pulled him over. The driver, thinking that he didn't recall speeding or doing anything wrong, pulled over. As the policeman comes to the driver's window, he says to the driver, "I stopped you because we need a tenth man for a minyan."
I love all the songs about the Land of Israel and how beautiful it is, and I love the army bands and other Israeli artists singing these songs.
I love Israel, because my kids learn to serve their country, either by guarding our borders in the IDF, or by doing National Service, and learning to help their brothers and sisters in hospitals, centers and schools for needy youth, and a host of other places where volunteers are needed. I love that this matures them for life.
I love that almost anywhere I go in Israel, there is a small synagogue near by my husband can jump in to catch a minyan.
I love knowing, that my children, and their children, and all my future generations will be speaking their mother tongue, Hebrew. I love that when they open a prayer book, it will be familiar to them, not written in a foreign language that we in the diaspora would lose our place in so often in synagogue - if we even went to synagogue.
I love that when I wake up each morning before 6am, I hear the radio open up with the Shema Yisrael prayer (Hear, O Israel).
I love that Jewish holidays are the norm here, and that there is no school on these days, and that the Jewish calendar is the norm here.
I love that Israel has a heart so big, it goes all over the world to help people suffering from tragedies or natural disasters, and often does a better and quicker job than many of the richer, western countries!
I love riding on a bus, and seeing all the young men wearing kippot (Yarmulkes) and they are not embarrassed and don't feel they need to wear a baseball cap to hide it.
I love that I traded 'Quantity' living in the diaspora, for 'Quality' living in Israel.
Israel is my family, my life, my future, and my privilege to be a part of. I simply love Israel!
Happy 65th Birthday of the Modern State of Israel!
There are many more reasons to love Israel. Please feel free to add to the list in the comment section below!