The holiday of Hanukkah has its origins in ancient times but Hellenism is still very much with us. While many people consider the leftists in Israel the Hellenists of today, in my view, the term more fittingly describes the Jews of the Diaspora who have the ability to move to Israel, but prefer to identify with the foreign country and foreign culture where they live.
This is exactly what a Hellenist is – as Webster’s Dictionary states: “A person living in Hellenist times who was Greek in language, outlook, and way of life, but was not Greek in ancestry, like a Hellenist Jew.” This description fits the American Jew, or English, Canadian , South Afrcan and Australian Jew of today. They prefer a foreign language over Hebrew; they prefer to live in a foreign land; and they chase after alien cultures, non-Jewish outlooks, and foreign ways of living.
American Jews for example strive to be just like the Gentiles of American, loving football, the movies, the New York Times, American fashions and fads, and American ambitions, just like the Hellenists did in the time of the Greeks. Under Greek rule, the Jewish Hellenists shaved off their beards, dressed in the latest style of tunics from Athens, and flocked to bawdy Greek theaters, concerts, brothels and pubs. They cheered alongside the Greeks at sporting events held in the nude, even extending their foreskins to hide the holy mark of their circumcisions so they would look like everyone else at the baths.
When Yehuda Maccabee shouted, “Follow me,” in the battle for the Hebrew sovereignty in the Land of Israel, the Jewish Hellenists stayed home.
Why is your run-of-the-mill secular Leftist in Israel less of Hellenist than a Diaspora Jew? Ask any Leftist in Israel what his identity is, and he will answer, an Israeli, or a Jew. Ask your average American Jew what his identity is, and he will answer, an American. This is true Hellenism. Today it’s called Americanism, that’s all.
The phenomena isn’t restricted to secular-Jews, or to Reform-Jews, to Progressive-Liberal-Universalist-Jews, or to whatever hyphenated identity they chose to call themselves. Many of the Orthodox Jews in America are Hellenists too. I don’t have the figures, but what percentage of Yeshiva University graduates make Aliyah? Maybe 1 out of 50. How many Young Israel families come to live in the land where the Hanukkah saga took place? 1 out of 100? The rest see themselves as Americans, not as Israelites. The watered-down Judaism of the Diaspora, and no matter how many chumras (stringencies) they observe it is still watered-down, is their religion.
Is their nationality – what the Maccabees fought for – red-white-and blue?
The lovers of Crown Heights, Williamsburg, Boro Park, Lakewood, and Spring Valley are pretty much the same. How many of them send their children to fight in the IDF? Maybe 1 out of 10,000. Why should they? Like the Jewish Hellenists of old, they stay in what they consider home.
Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."