Tomorrow night the Jewish world will light the first candle of Hanukkah, a holiday celebrating the Jewish rebellion against their Assyrian-Greek oppressors. Hanukkah has come to symbolize our everlasting struggle against persecution throughout our shared history.
Jewish identity, Jewish values and preserving the Jewish tradition are what the Maccabees fought for. More than 2,000 years after the story of the Maccabees, we continue to face existential threats and persecution. And we continue to hope that our enemies will one day become our friends, or at least better neighbors.
But until they do, we cherish our human values and remember the days when six million of our own perished, when an existential threat led those who survived to flee their homes, leaving behind horror, carrying with them nothing but misery and pain.
Only 140 miles separate Jerusalem from Damascus; a little more than doubling that and you get the distance between our capital and Aleppo, once a beautiful city in northern Syria. Today Aleppo is a heaping ruin, a sad memory of lost glory, where genocide takes place. Where oppression is today’s reality.
Since March 2011, a civil war grew out of the unrest of the 2011 Arab Spring and escalated to armed conflict after President Bashar al-Assad’s government violently repressed protests calling for his removal. The country as we know it is gone. The Syrian Centre for Policy Research released an estimate of 470,000 killed, with 1.9 million wounded (with a total of 11.5 percent of the entire population either wounded or killed) and more than one million fleeing their bloody homeland for an uncertain future elsewhere.
Assyrians are the villains of our Hanukkah story, ancient forebears of today’s Syria. But the Syrian people today aren’t our enemy. Yes, their government is—its declared intention proves so. The many wars between both nations testify to that. But the children of Syria aren’t. The innocent men and women suffering from constant bombings aren’t, the orphan babies and the homeless elderly aren’t. They are innocent victims of a brutal tyrant, they are human beings and they are our neighbors.
Since the war in Syria began, thousands of its wounded have crossed our border and received medical treatment in Israel, knowing by doing that, the Assad regime may kill them upon their return home.
In addition, Israelis have launched Facebook campaigns, calling for action in the forms of public prayers and donations to aid the people of Syria.
Tomorrow night, Hanukkah’s first candle lighting, a large gathering is planned in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, as an act of solidarity with the people of Syria. This will also be an opportunity to collect clothing and toys from the many expected to participate, to then be shipped to the people of Syria.
Since 2013 different Israeli delegations have landed on the shores of Europe, assisting in the rescue of refugees, carrying them to safe grounds, welcoming them to their future, to life.
Israel is not alone in these efforts—the Jewish world once again demonstrates its core value of Tikkun Olam or repairing the world. Jews around the globe have launched and participated in different campaigns to help the people of Aleppo, raising money for food, blankets, and formulas for babies, medical supplies, and hope.
In a week where the Christian world is getting ready to celebrate its major holiday, 12 people were killed and 48 were wounded, 11 critically, in Berlin’s Christmas market, a result of merciless terror. We must believe that although evil and oppression exist, kindness and mercy will overcome. We see proof in our Hanukkah story, in how today we assist the descendants of our ancient tormentors.
In the next eight nights, close to 16 million Jews worldwide will light Hanukkah candles. It is my hope that these millions of candles will spread light to overcome the darkness of any form and shape. That this light will illuminate the beauty of mankind, of all races, colors, and religion. This is our Jewish flame—the flame of hope, the flame of peace, the flame of humanity.
Shabbat shalom and happy Hanukkah!
Vice President, Director, JCC Israel Center