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Highlighting our Jewish Heroes during Hanukkah

11/21/2021 06:37:53 PM


One day after our Sunday CJL classes, I logged on to a webinar about modern anti-Semitism, and there was Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, a famous scholar and outspoken critic of anti-Semitism.  She has spoken out against Holocaust deniers, anti-Semitism and racism for as long as I can remember, and she continually seeks to make the world a safer place for Jews and all peoples.  Film producer Steven Spielberg helped document 50,000 stories of  Holocaust survivors which are now chronicled through the USC Shoah Foundation.   Mayim Bialik, an actress and current Jeopardy host, is proudly Jewish and writes about raising Jewish children and her observant Jewish ritual practices. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg was the founder of CLAL, an organization which seeks to create dialogue and understanding between Jewish leaders of different Jewish denominations. Rabbi Avi Weiss, rabbi emeritus of Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, ordained the first modern Orthodox woman as a rabba, a female Jewish spiritual leader.  Lipstadt, Bialik, Spielberg, Greenberg and Weiss are my Jewish role models/heroes.

On the evening of November 28th, we will kindle the first candle on our hanukkiot, our Hanukkah menorahs, and begin celebrating the Festival of Hanukkah.  We know the story about the legend of oil, that just a small amount of purified oil lasted for eight nights, instead of one, giving the Jews enough time to procure more purified oil to keep the menorah lit in the Temple in Jerusalem.  We also know the story of how Mattathias, Judah, and the Maccabees fought for the right to remain Jewish against the Hellenizers and Syrian Greeks who were advocating for the Jews to assimilate at that time. In their fight against the Syrian Greeks,  the Maccabees demonstrated gevurah, physical and spiritual strength.  For these reasons,  Mattathias, Judah, and the Maccabees are heroes of the Hanukkah story, and their story teaches us that we too should be proud, celebrate our Judaism, and continue to fight for religious freedom.

In each age throughout Jewish history, we have had Jewish figures who have become Jewish role models/heroes for their courageous demonstration of Jewish values and actions.    Abraham, Moses, Miriam, Deborah, Esther, Hillel the Elder, Maimonides, Judah Ha-Levi, Hannah Senesh, and Abraham Joshua Heschel are to name just a few.  Through their story and actions, they have inspired the next generation of Jews to carry on the legacy of the Jewish people.

Hanukkah is an opportune time to begin a discussion about our Jewish heroes. Perhaps on one night of Hanukkah, or on several nights, we can choose one Jewish heroic figure from the past or present and discuss which Jewish values they emulate, why he/she/they are a Jewish hero/role model to us, and how we might emulate their characteristics in our lives.  For a list of Jewish heroes, check out ANU, the Museum of the Jewish People’s new exhibit on Jewish heroes. Long after the hanukkiot candles burn down and the gifts are unwrapped, it is my hope that discussions like these will imbue within us the Jewish value of lifelong learning, a value which helped inspire our Jewish heroes to act in the past and a value which has the potential to inspire others to become Jewish role models in the present and future.

חנוכה שמח

Wishing you a Happy Festival of Lights!


Rabbi Wendy Pein


Thu, June 30 2022 1 Tammuz 5782