Tonight we kindle the first light of Chanukah. And it strikes me that this year the messages and themes of the holiday are especially important:
It is hardly an easy time. Not here in Israel, and certainly not in the US. We struggle with corona and the concommitant economic difficulties. And with it, an atmosphere of political uncertainty.
Within this time of darkness, our souls long for light to shine upon us.
Because of the political turmoil, we contend with a precariousness, a sense that the ground is not solid beneath us. The model provided by the Maccabees – who fought long and hard to defend Jewish values that were extremely important – can serve us well. We are reminded that we need to be clear about our values, and to find the strength to devote ourselves to them.
Only this can bring us to a better time. Political equivocation won’t do it.
Today the celebration of Chanukah is often linked to Zionism and to pride in the re-establishment of our nation in modern times.
Below, we see lighting of a chanukiah in a transit camp in the Netherlands in 1943. The transit camp was a way station en route to the death camps.
And here, IDF soldiers lighting the chanukiah in Hevron in 2018.
How far we have come in less than 80 years! Yet is it far enough?
Jew hatred is more prevalent and more acceptable in the world now than it has been in decades; its most recent configuration is anti-Zionism.
It falls to every Jew to understand what it means that we have a sovereign Jewish state, and to stand tall with pride. It falls to every Jew to defend that state. Yet so many have turned away or remain oblivious.
From the IsraelForever website I share this story written by David Eastman (emphasis added):
“Three hundred and twenty [IDF] soldiers stand around a wooden table. Their faces are painted. Their boots are heavy from the thick dried mud. They are tired. Their feet are sore, their backs ache. They are dressed in full battle gear.
“A cold winter wind tears through their light winter gear. The battalion commander, who is not religious, stands with a burning candle in his hand. He raises his eyes to look at his men. They have been through almost a week and a half of intense war training. His eyes are filled with pride.
“Men of the 890th Airborne Battalion,” he says in his raspy voice, “today WE are the Maccabees. We must be strong and fight against our enemies. No one else will do it for us.”
“With that he lowers his eyes to the small golden chanukiah resting on the wooden table. At his signal the whole group of soldiers begins to chant the blessings before the lighting.”
And then, then there is the miracle of the oil. We are taught that when the Hasmonean leaders prevailed over Greek forces after years of battle and retook the Temple, they found that only one cruse of ritually pure olive oil remained. It was sufficient for only one day. And yet it burned for eight.
Continuing, David Eastman also wrote this (emphasis added):
“Oil is the potential for flame. It lays dormant until ignited. It is nothing and yet everything.
“Every Jew has an untainted vial of oil deep inside his precious soul. A spiritual potential untouched by the impurities of the world. The oil may seem only to be enough ‘for one day,’ but the flame it brings forth can never be extinguished…
“May we all be given the strength to search hard enough to discover the untainted oil within our fellow Jews, and most of all within ourselves.
“May we have the courage to ignite it.”
On lighting our candles we sing “Hanerot Halalu.“ It declares that our sole purpose in kindling our Chanukah lights is to publicize the miracle. It is forbidden to use the lights in any other way.
May the Almighty bring a miracle to us in our day.
To everyone I wish a Chanukah Sameach. May you derive joy and strength from this holiday.
Now I turn, as promised, to political happenings here in Israel. There are two reasons why I have refrained from writing in detail about these happenings in recent days.
One reason, as I have indicated, is because of the enormous import of the contested US election. Thus have I chosen to focus on it.
But there has been another reason: The sense that our politics have been reduced to, as I say above, a circus. It has felt as if our purported leaders have been running in circles, without getting where they so badly need to go.
The frustration has been enormous. I cannot pretend I am proud of what has been going on. I most certainly am not. Difficult to admit, necessary to say. But I would guess that a solid percentage of the Israeli population feels precisely the same way.
To share in any detail information about which politician said what to which other politician has felt like a waste of my time, and yours. For, every couple of days, the scenario changed.
There is a lack of cohesivenes – but a cohesiveness, a sense of unity is especially important in these difficult times. My cry, constantly, has been: But this is not how it is supposed to be!!
How ironic it has all been: We have a “unity” government, yet there has been little but antipathy between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister/Alternate Prime Minister Gantz. The result has been a stalemate in many quarters.
The key issues around which the circus has circled have been the question of elections, and of a budget. The two are intimately connected, as a new election will kick in automatically if a budget is not passed by the last week in December.
What our two “leaders” are fighting about is whether it should be a one or two year budget. Understand, please, that what is being referred to are budgets for 2020 and 2021. Netanyahu has been arguing that separate budgets give him more flexibility. But what is beyond doubt is the political dimension in this escapade.
Follow me here: If Netanyahu has his way, a 2020 budget will be passed now. This would push aside the election issue for some months. If the 2021 budget were not passed by March, then by default the election process would begin, three months hence.
All of this would buy Netanyahu time. Not so long ago, he was eager for elections. Yet now, his poll numbers have dropped – Naftali Bennett, his political nemesis is on the rise – and he’s in no rush.
If there is one thing Netanyahu does not want, it’s to be bested by Bennett. Don’t imagine for a second, however, that his coming trial has nothing to do with how he is planning.
Gantz admitted recently that he knew he was never going to become prime minister (which was supposed to happen after 18 months as part of the rotation of the unity agreement). Of course, many of us knew this a long time ago.
He’s playing things to his best advantage now.
Yair Lapid – head of Yesh Atid, and of the opposition – was beyond furious when Gantz broke with him to join the unity government, but is now trying to court Gantz to come back. That’s very unlikely to happen. But his appeal to Gantz demonstrates very vividly what political declarations are worth, for he said he would never have anything to do with him again.
Now, it seems, matters are going to get more interesting, as a new dynamic sets in:
Gideon Sa’ar has left Likud and plans to start his own party.
Sa’ar served as a member of the Knesset for the Likud between 2003 and 2014. Between 2009 and 2014 he served first as education minister and then interior minister, after which he took a break from politics. He returned to the Knesset in 2019, and challenged Netanyahu for leadership of Likud in a primary. That effort was quite unsuccessful, as Netanyahu played his hand very well on that occasion.
But now the situation has shifted and Sa’ar, who has long been intent on unseating Netanyahu, is coming from greater strength. It’s too soon to say whether he will be successful, but he seems to be off to a strong start. MKs Yoaz Hendel (left below) and Zvi Hauser of Derech Eretz (who had been associated with Blue and White) have already indicated a readiness to join with Sa’ar. It’s a question of who else will want to be on board.
There is talk about Bennett and Sa’ar joining forces, but as each is aiming to be prime minister, this would be complicated. If their primary goal is defeating Netanyahu, that might work.
We’re going into that maddening season of constant polls now, of course. Early polls give Sa’ar 15 seats.
It looks like I’ll be tracking Israeli politics with increased diligence in coming days.
If you would like a deeper analysis now:
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.