Stand With Us to Let the Light of the Jewish People Keep Shining

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt lights a menorah at the Central America Forum Hanukkah Celebration, in Washington, D.C., Nov. 29, 2021.

December 1, 2021

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt — a Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Advisory Board member — delivered the following remarks at the Central America Forum Hanukkah Celebration on Monday, November 29th, 2021. The festive gathering was hosted by the Embassy of the Republic of Guatemala in the United States, in partnership with CAM.

The Talmud asks a question: Mai Hanukkah, meaning: What is Hanukkah? Why is it celebrated? What is its significance?

In case there are those among us who do not know the reason for the holiday:

Over a period of these eight days we celebrate the victory of a small band of brave and courageous Jews who in the 2nd century BCE decided they were not going to succumb to the dictates of the Greek Empire. They fought against their surrogates, the Seleucids, who wanted them to abandon Judaism and to adopt their way of life.

Think about it.

Had the Maccabees not resisted these efforts, we would not be here today.

The Jewish people would not be here, nor for that matter would Christianity exist either.

The fact that this small band was able to withstand an army mightier than theirs, a power greater than theirs, an empire more expansive than theirs is the first of the two miracles we acknowledge.

The holiday is often explained as a battle for religious freedom. And it was. When I speak and teach about Hanukkah, I like to add that our ancestors of long ago fought — to preserve our right to be different; for our right to be a minority. They wanted the light of Judaism to survive.

And that brings us to the second of the two miracles of Hanukkah — a legend in the Talmud tells us when they arrived at the Temple in Jerusalem, the tired warriors discovered it had been defiled and desecrated. Pagan, idolatrous symbols, and other things abhorrent to the Jews had been used in the Temple. They wanted to rededicate the Temple, which is the meaning of the word Chanukah — and wanted to light a menorah to do so.

They found one small vial of oil that had not been desecrated. And they lit the menorah, hoping it would give off light for one day — but it actually lasted eight days.

To put this in context — think of your cell phone battery being about to die. You discover you have less than 15% power left, and then it lasts for eight days — that is the miracle of Hanukkah!

And so as we light this menorah tonight, here at the home of His Excellency, Alfonso Quiñónez, the honorable Ambassador of Guatemala to the United States — we think of the warm friendship that exists between the Jewish people, the people of Israel, and Guatemala.

I sensed this first hand when I was in Antiqua, Guatemala, just the week before last.

I learned while I was there that it was Guatemala that was the deciding vote at the United Nations when the resolution to establish the State of Israel was presented for a vote. In fact, it is especially propitious that we are here tonight, for that fateful vote took place on November 29th, 1947 — exactly 74 years ago today.

And so we again express our gratitude to your country for this, as well as for being the first country after the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We appreciate your standing up to the forces who would seek to divide our people.

For when we celebrate the victory of the Maccabees — we celebrate a battle that was won, but unfortunately one which is not over.

Just as then there were those who did not want the Jewish people to survive, just as then, there were those who sought to extinguish the light of Judaism, so too, are there forces in the world today who oppose the nation state of the Jewish people. There are those who would deny Israel its rightful place among the community of nations, and who seek to demonize, delegitimize and ostracize the Jewish state.

Thank God, and I mean this, thank God — Guatemala is not among those nations.

Antisemitism takes many forms. I was very saddened to hear from my 12-year-old granddaughter that her Bible teacher, who wears a kippah was punched in the face on the subway in New York a little more than a week ago — for no reason, other than that he was a Jew.

When Mattathias who was the leader of the revolt against the Syrians, who were aligned with the Greek Seleucids, led his people in battle, he proclaimed, “Let all who are with us, all who are zealous for the Torah and who support the covenant come with me.”

In a similar vein, we say today — let all who are with us, all who recognize the scourge of antisemitism, all who appreciate the vast contributions of the Jewish people and nation to the world, all who are willing to oppose forces of darkness, come and stand with us, as we continue to proclaim the message of freedom and liberty, of tolerance, and understanding, so that the light of the Jewish people, the Jewish heritage, and the Jewish nation shall continue to shine brightly.

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt can be contacted at: [email protected]