The Miracle of Chanukah: Endurance In The Face of “They Are Not Like Us”

In 168 B.C.E. Antiochus IV, intent on stomping out non-Hellenic (Greek) religions and customs, banned all Jewish practices—Sabbath observance, dietary restrictions, prayer and sacrifices to the one God—on pain of death. “I can no longer endure the Jews that dwell in the land of Israel,” he said, according to first-century historian, Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews. “I know that in their hearts they hate me and hope for my destruction. They are not like us.”

 The Golden Menorah on the way to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter (Creative Commons 4.0)
The Golden Menorah on the way to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter (Creative Commons 4.0)

They are not like us. The essence of every hate-filled rant bellowed by every two-bit demagogue, every would-be conqueror, every aspiring dictator who can only feel tall by making others small. It’s been said many ways in many tongues:

Jews will not replace us! The refrain of the Charlottesville white supremacist mob in the summer of 2017.

How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? I am beautiful! A rant in the 141-page manifesto of Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and injured 14 others in a misogynistic, racist rampage.

I, as a natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit, disgraces of human race and failures of natural selection. The social media posting of teen Pekka-Eric Auvinen before he gunned down eight students at Jokela High School in Finland in 2007.

And so it goes: The Christchurch, New Zealand gunman, the Tree of Life, Pittsburgh shooter, the Nazis, the neo-Nazis, the KKK, and on and on.

But They are not like us is not confned to the violent and insane. It is the socially-acceptable cocktail that is the gateway drug to hate. “Oh she’s so exotic.” “Well, you know that’s the way they are, my dear.” “Did you hear the one about the ...”

And the dangers of where They are not like us can lead are nowhere better exemplified than in the story of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, celebrated by Jews around the world this month.

Antiochus, in forging a one-religion state, gave all non-Greeks a choice: be like us—renounce your religion, defile your temples, worship our gods—or die. That was the time-honored stratagem for millennia of how to eradicate the Jewish people: convert or we’ll kill you. But then in more recent times the advent of the pseudo-science of eugenics enabled true card-carrying haters to label Jews as a separate race altogether—like the Black, the Asian, the Aborigine and all such “undesirables”—and therefore beyond any cure—conversion or otherwise—except slaughter.

Many Jews in Antiochus’ day took the easy route and converted. They were now like us, they hoped. Many others ran away. The ones who stayed practiced their faith in stealth or not at all. But when the old priest Mattathias, and his five sons, the Maccabees, began their guerilla revolt against the oppressor, there was no room for dissembling or waffling. Those who had converted were pressed into the fight against the Maccabees and were put to the sword as enemies, as were the Jews’ Greek friends. The Jews who had maintained their identity but who had been too timid to stand against the arrayed strength of the King’s battalions found heart under the Maccabee banner, and incredibly, Antiochus and his tens of thousands were swept out of Israel by the Maccabees and their thousands.

The miracle of Chanukah is the endurance of faith against overwhelming odds. How can one day’s worth of oil burn for eight? How can a people, not historically known for militaristic aims, endure slaughters, pogroms, exiles and a Holocaust, out-surviving their would-be annihilators time and time again?

To our dismay and heartache many a would-be Antiochus—be they commanders with millions of troops, celebrities with millions of followers, or a single lunatic with an assault weapon—have not yet been brought to account, their villainy exposed, their enablers defanged. Meanwhile, the targeted religions and races and other minorities endure somehow—bloodied, beaten but still flickering with life—just as the flame of the single lamp endured so long ago.

But why must it be this way? Why must there always be a struggle between those who rant They are not like us and those who simply want to be themselves? As the candles are lit each Chanukah night, the pious Jew chants the blessing thanking the Almighty “who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.”

Part of faith is the hope of a better tomorrow with a better outcome. Otherwise, what’s the point of enduring another day? The answer to the question, Why, then is hope and work. Hope that a better day will come, and work toward that day through education, persistence and insistence that intolerance be manifested only toward intolerance itself.

And at that point, They are not like us will take its true place in the dustbin of an ancient and unenlightened distant past.


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Channukah Religious repression