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Friday Night's (12/7/2018) Sermon: Hanukkah 5779

This week is Hanukkah. Many Jews observe Hanukkah as if it was the main, most important, holiday of our people. This is certainly a fun festival of eating oil-imbued foods like potato latkes and sugoniyot or jelly donuts. We spin the dreidel, light the Hanukkiah and generally have a fun time.

Hanukkah is actually a minor festival because it commemorates a battle. Nevertheless, we should remember that there is an important lesson here. At the risk of being glib: They tried to destroy us, Hashem intervened, let’s eat. While this is a joke we Jews like to tell, there is a lot of truth to it.

During the Amidah or Tefillah, we add a prayer during Hanukkah. It is inserted in the first of the last three prayers that are ubiquitous throughout all versions and adaptations of the silent, standing prayer. We say “Modim anuhnu lak”—we gratefully thank you, Hashem…for all the miracles you grant us every day. This lead in is appropriate placement for this particular miracle. This, by the way, is also the placement of the particular prayer for Purim, another miraculous save by Hashem. These two holidays have this in common, that enemies tried to destroy us but in different manners. The Seleucids tried to destroy and violate our Temple and Haman tried to kill the Jewish people, respectively. Both attempts failed. Thus the festivals.

With current events, consider that this holiday becomes more important. As the Greek-Assyrian Seleucids tried to destroy our Temple, we have had attacks on synagogues and Jews recently. We have had a gun man attack a synagogue during Shabbat Shachrit, we’ve had someone attack two people leaving their shul after Shabbat services, and a college professor have her office defaced with anti-Semitic symbols.

In Europe, attacks are also rampant. Not only are Jews randomly attacked on the streets of various cities, but there are government parties that are hostile to Jews. Many elected government officials in various countries are making known their enmity towards Israel for oppressing a people who make it a weekly practice, on our sacred day of Shabbat, to launch explosive and inflammatory devices at innocent and civilian Israelis, and then launch missiles at Israel while declaring a truce.

Many of these same governments are also defaming our holiest rites in order to make it hard, if not eliminate, Jewish practices and Judaism. They are making it illegal for Jewish parents to circumcise their sons, a procedure of the covenant so important that Hashem allows this even of Shabbat. These same governments are also preventing us from engaging in ritual slaughter—Schitta—to kosher an animal for consumption; this is an interesting declaration since the sole purpose is to kill the animal in the most humane and painless manner. The situation is so dire in England that one of their most prominent citizens made world headlines by immigrating to Israel citing how hostile the environment is to Jews.

All of this is reminiscent of other such enactments in our history. Reading of the Haftorah originated because the state governments made it illegal for us to read the Torah. Our sages got around this by selecting an appropriate portion from the Prophets that captured the theme of the respective portion. In our daily liturgy, the Shema is said at the beginning of the service during the Morning Blessings because, again, the state governments prohibited us from saying it during the service.

Finally, the United States ambassador to the United Nations recently tried to hold the Gazan terrorist group, Hamas, accountable for the wonton attacks of the recent launching of over 400 missiles at Israel by introducing a resolution at a recent meeting of that body. It did not get the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

But there is hope. While the resolution didn’t get the required two-thirds, it did get a majority vote. While many anti-Semitic actions are in play in Europe, the European Union recently started a process of clamping down on anti-Semitic acts. As the Democratic party in the United States is now set to take control of the House of Representatives come January, the new Speaker of the House and Minority Leader of the Senate has reaffirmed their party’s support for Jews and Israel and rebuked some in-coming freshmen Representatives for their condemnation.

For us, we must stick together. We are probably the most conspicuous and well-known minority in the world. #StandUpforShabbat and support your local synagogue. We must keep our culture and heritage alive and doing things together is important. Keeping the faith is important for future generations.

Our people have survived because we’ve adhered (the meaning of the word “religion”) to the principles of our people and observed. As we state every week, “[E]ven though evil seems to flourish, their doom is sure to come because Yours is the ultimate triumph”. And we will continue to take precautions to keep our people safe.

Hanukkah has borne this out. It has shown that if we are resolute, we will prevail. So observe this holiday and enjoy it. While all of the above seems pessimistic and dire, remember that by sticking to our practices we have survived and thrived for 3500 years. And we will continue.

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