A Chabad Rabbi and a wounded IDF soldier brought a modern message of Hanukkah hope to North Tel Aviv Thursday night, as they lit the traditional Hanukkah candles together as part of a special program for Jewish unity.
On Thursday, Rabbi Menachem Kutner, Director of the Chabad Terror Victim's Project (CTVP) and former IDF soldier Kfir Levi lit the candles together in a special program by Jewish unity organization Korov Lalev (lit. Close to the Heart).
Rabbi Kutner explained to Arutz Sheva that the soldier, who was badly wounded in Gaza in 2002, demonstrates the modern epitome of light and life in the spirit of the Hanukkah holiday.
Despite undergoing some 140 surgeries for his condition, Rabbi Kutner enthuses that Levi "never stops smiling". The 31-year-old has taken his experiences defending the State of Israel - like the Maccabees - and uses them as a springboard to help others appreciate life. Levi works with the CTVP to visit other wounded soldiers and offer words of encouragement and hope.
"This is the meaning of Hanukkah," R' Kutner enthused, "to publicize to everyone that the light will win" against adversity.
"If you want to see miracles before your eyes, just look at Kfir" as a living miracle, Kutner continued. "Look at what G-d gave the Jewish people."
Rabbi Kutner has been the director of the CTVP for over 11 years. The program helps the families of wounded IDF soldiers financially and psychologically, as well as providing support for widows, orphans, and bereaved parents, among others.
Thursday's ceremony was also attended by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi and Rabbi of Tel Aviv.
The night was just another event in a string of special programs being launched by dialogue organization Korov Lalev. The organization has teamed up with the staff at the Tel Aviv Port to present a special series of candle-lighting ceremonies, in an effort to bring the oft-divided secular and religious populations in Israel together.
Korov Lalev funds programs to foster more religious-secular unity, by encouraging the communities to engage in dialogue. The religious and secular communities in Israel often do not see eye-to-eye on religious, political, and cultural issues, due to different views about the role of religion and State, the role of the IDF and compulsory service, and other key topics.
The phenomenon is partly due to the fact that in a Jewish state, Jewish communities often do not form under neccessity - the gathering of a minority population for support - but under the umbrella of shared values. As such, it can be very common for a religiously observant teenager to be completely engrossed in the religious world, and to find it difficult to relate to secular Israelis - and vice versa.
Korov Lalev attempts to bridge this gap by uniting the populations over the Jewish holidays, which are celebrated by both communities religiously and culturally.
Hanukkah presents the perfect opportunity for a program based on religious unity. Traditionally, the war described in Talmudic sources which the Maccabees won was not only against the Greek Army, but was also a civil war between different factions of Jews with different views on Hellenist culture and life.
Moreover, statistics show that the religious and secular communities observe Hanukkah more similarly than they would any other holiday. A 2012 Yediot Aharonot report showed that in 2009, roughly 22% of Israelis defined themselves as "religiously observant," 43% defined themselves as "secular or non-affiliated," and 32% defined themselves as "traditional."
However, polls conducted by Korov Lalev and the Sarid Institute revealed that over 70% of Israel's population found it "important" or "very important" to keep the commandments and customs of Hanukkah according to religious and traditional sources - providing a pivotal platform for inter-sector bonding.
This year, the organization has implemented a two-part program for inter-sector dialogue. One part of the program hosts non-affiliated families in religiously observant homes for candle-lighting ceremonies, providing the opportunity for families to discuss what the holiday means to them in an informal context.
The second part invites the public to moving candle-lighting ceremonies at the site of the world's largest Hanukkiah, which will be lit by the Israeli Electric Company on December 4 to send off the holiday with a glow. The ceremonies will continue throughout the holiday.