Now That's My Kind of Chanukah

Not By Might Nor By Power 

By Aliza Becker, Deputy Director and Rabbi John Friedman, Rabbinic Cabinet Chair

Chanukah is a wonderful opportunity to take a deep breath and focus on the struggle to bring new light to a world too often filled with darkness. It is one of the rare holidays established after the Torah was codified in around 5 BCE. The rabbis of the Talmudic period (200-600 CE) were actually quite ambivalent about how to commemorate its events. Uncomfortable with celebrating a military victory, they chose to emphasize not the Maccabees’ successful rebellion against Greek oppressors, but rather the tale of a single cruse of oil that burned for eight days in the war’s aftermath, allowing for the proper purification of the desecrated Temple. This was proclaimed the central memory of the Chanukah story, and is the reason we light eight candles to this day.

With that in mind, the rabbis introduced a passage from the Prophet Zechariah as Chanukah’s Haftorah, the prophetic portion to be read on Shabbat (Zech 2:14- 4:7). Here we find a passage, which speaks directly to the heart of the search for peace: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the eternal God.” When read during Chanukah, this message presents an important counter-point to the theme of military triumph.

In our day, of course, Chanukah has become one of the best-known Jewish holidays. For eight days, we take the opportunity to symbolically banish the darkness around us with the light of faith—faith in God for some, but also faith in humanity, and faith in the power of peace. We are reminded again that our challenges ought not be solved by might or power, but rather the spirit of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

In that spirit, this year we honor eight Israelis who have acted courageously for peace, exemplifying the Chanukah message of light over darkness, the spirit of reconciliation over military might.

Light one candle for Noam Shalit

The father of captive Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit has consistently taken a stand few would expect of him: He has called for an end to military engagement, been outspoken about the need for diplomacy, and traveled to Gaza to visit noncombatant Palestinians injured in a recent Israeli attack. Indeed, he recently went one step further, announcing that he would be meeting in Gaza with officials from both Hamas and Fatah as soon as he was able, in an effort to at least visit his son in captivity. Soon after Palestinian militants seized his son, Shalit went on record in support of a prisoner swap, officially anathema to the Olmert government: “The release of prisoners was on the agenda before the incident as a goodwill gesture,” he said “so there is no reason to remove it from the agenda after it, with the aim of releasing a soldier sent by the country to the frontlines.”

Light one candle for Galia Golan

Israeli intellectual and founding member of Peace Now, Galia Golan was one of the few prominent Israelis to take the government to task in the course of this summer’s war in Lebanon, at a time when most Israeli and American Jews felt the war to be both justified and wise. Writing about unpleasant post-war possibilities, Golan warned that Israel’s deterrent power would likely be weakened, that the hostilities would make it harder for Lebanon’s political leaders to confront Hezbollah, and that, indeed, the war would likely increase Hezbollah’s influence—all of which we have seen in the wake of the fighting. But rather than simply point fingers, Golan also insisted that there is a way out of the wars in which Israel has been involved since its inception: talks. She wrote in Haaretz: “A comprehensive settlement is not easy to achieve… but if lasting security is sought, there must be agreements – and that means negotiations.”

Light one candle for MK Ophir Pines-Paz

When far-right wing ideologue Avigdor Lieberman was brought into the Olmert cabinet, one government minister stood up and resigned in protest: Minister of Culture, Labor Party chairman Ophir Pines-Paz. Lieberman advocates the forced transfer of Arabs from Israel, and has called for the execution of Arab Members of Knesset who meet with representatives from Syria or Hamas, but only Pines-Paz refused to quietly accept his inclusion in the government. Discussing the difficult decision, Pines-Paz said that while he wanted to play a role in the decision-making process during this crucial period in Israel’s history, “the moment the government decided to allow the inclusion of Lieberman and his party, whose leaders are infected with racist and anti-democratic statements, I am left with no other choice.”

Light one candle for Naomi Chazan

Israeli politician, intellectual and leading peace activist Naomi Chazan has played a critical role in establishing the International Women’s Commission for a Just and Sustainable Israeli-Palestinian Peace (IWC). The IWC was created to ensure the international implementation of UN Resolution 1325, which mandates meaningful participation of women in mainstream peace negotiations. Believing that women’s involvement in conflict resolution is critical to restarting negotiations and improving their outcomes, the IWC has met with a broad range of international decision makers, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari.

Light one candle for Rabbi Arik Ascherman

As the Executive Director of the Israeli organization Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), Rabbi Ascherman has consistently fought to protect the basic human rights of the people living under occupation, calling on the Israeli government to negotiate peace with anyone willing to do so, and fighting the demolition of Palestinian homes deemed illegal by the Israeli government. Faced with a bureaucracy that systematically denies their fundamental right to reasonable living standards, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are often forced to construct houses without official permits; these structures are routinely destroyed by the Israeli authorities, as are existent houses on land Israel declares “state land.” Rabbi Ascherman was arrested in 2004 while protesting the demolition of the Dari family home in the village of Issawiya; rebuilt with aid from RHR, it was demolished again just this month. Rabbi Ascherman and RHR have committed themselves rebuilding the Dari home again. On the fifth night of Chanukah this year, RHR will be lighting candles and protesting home demolitions in front of the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem.

Light one candle for Aida Touma Sliman

Longtime social activist Aida Touma-Sliman has acted with courage in advocating for both peace and women’s rights in Israel, tackling the special issues raised for Palestinian women living in an Israeli state, as well as violence against women within the Arab community. Touma-Sliman rightly links the struggle against violence on all fronts; she was instrumental in the establishment of the IWC (see Naomi Chazan), has long been at the forefront of Israel’s Coalition of Women for Peace (an umbrella group for nine women’s peace organizations) and as Executive Director of Women Against Violence, has placed particular focus on the issue of “honor” killing among Israel’s Arab community. Rather than asking that any one issue wait its turn until others are solved, Touma-Sliman consistently acts on the understanding that none of us are free, until all of us are free.

Light one candle for David Grossman

Long known for his support of
a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, internationally acclaimed Israeli author David Grossman appeared at a press conference during the 2006 Lebanon War to urge the government to declare a ceasefire with Hezbollah—and within days, his own 20 year old son was killed in the continuing hostilities. Speaking three months later at the country’s annual Memorial Service for assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Grossman neither turned his back on the hope for peace, nor shrank from his own pain. “Maybe, Mr. Prime Minister,” he said “you need to be reminded, that if an Arab leader is sending a peace signal, be it the slightest and most hesitant, you must accept it, you must test immediately its sincerity and seriousness.” He closed with a heartrending appeal to his fellow Israelis: “I beseech, I call on all those who listen, the young who came back from the war, who know they are the ones to be called upon to pay the price of the next war; on citizens, Jew and Arab; people on the right and the left; the secular; the religious, stop for a moment, take a look into the abyss. Think of how close we are to losing all that we have created here. Ask yourselves if this is not the time to get a grip, to break free of this paralysis, to finally claim the lives we deserve to live.”

Light one candle for MK Yuli Tamir

Education Minister Yuli Tamir recently proposed a simple, yet deeply controversial, change in Israeli textbooks: The re-introduction of the “Green Line,” the official, internationally recognized boundary between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, to official maps. Speaking about it with the press, she said “We cannot deny that there used to be a border that is still being debated today.” Activities such as on-going construction of the Security Barrier, continuing settlement expansion, and the annexation of Palestinian villages into the municipality of Jerusalem have served to make the border somewhat fuzzy in Israeli and international minds alike. Re-introducing it to school maps, in spite of furious opposition from some quarters, will act as a straightforward reminder that a solution is still desperately needed to the end the bloodshed over where the line falls.

Suggestions for Chanukah:

1. Give Chanukah gelt (a donation) to Brit Tzedek v’Shalom to help us continue with the important work of building a grassroots peace movement among American Jews. Your donation will help Brit Tzedek as it advocates for greater US engagement in the search for a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You might also consider a gift membership as a Chanukah gift. Make a donation.

2. Give Chanukah gelt to support the important work of Israeli and Palestinian peace groups, as a personal statement or in honor of friends and family.

3. Engage people at Chanukah parties in peace-related discussions. When you visit with family and loved ones over the holiday season, don’t hesitate to tell them about your involvement with Brit Tzedek’s work. Start a conversation about courage and what it takes for people to stand up for and act on their beliefs. Encourage your guests to talk about opportunities they have had to show courage in their own lives, and to discuss people of valor they admire. Start a conversation about the recently published Baker-Hamilton Commission recommendations related to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Brit Tzedek’s materials on the topic include : FAQs, a press release, and excerpts from the Baker-Hamilton Commission report related to Arab-Israeli peace.

4. Fry your latkes in fair-trade olive oil from a cooperative administered by Palestinian and Israeli women.

Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206