Friday, November 29, 2013

The Maccagrims

What we're really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?
Erma Bombeck

Each year, American's and Canadians in Israel (AACI) hosts a Thanksgiving meal for whomever wants to come: new Olim, veteran Olim, Americans, and not Americans. We team up with Beer Sheva's 'soup kitchen" (but it's really so much more!) Beer Sova and cook up a complete and sumptuous Thanksgiving meal complete with turkey, stuffing, and sweet potato pie.

Due to family circumstances beyond my control, I am unable to attend this year’s AACI Thanksgiving dinner, which was held last night.

But not to worry. Here is what I was going to say:

When I was asked to give a short speech this year, one obvious subject immediately sprung to mind; the convergence of Thanksgiving and Chanuka. It’s the first time in about 7830 years that this is happened, and it won’t happen again for another 25,897 years or something like that. And obviously, a name has been made up, T-shirts have been designed, and little action figures of Yehuda HaMaccabi in a hat with a buckle killing turkeys are being sold around the country. I thought that, really, there wasn't a whole lot I could say that hasn't already been said.
As I googled Thanksgiving on Chanuka, most of what I came up with were deeps thoughts such as: ‘Wow! that is truly amazing!’ ‘Won’t happen again even in the lifetimes of our great great times 10 grandchildren!’ ‘And G-d works in mysterious ways!’

Here’s the thing. As I’ve said in years past, both AACI and Beer Sova are a-political, a-religious organizations serving everyone, regardless of race, religion, or political opinion.
In my capacity as Chairperson of AACI south, I also try and help everyone regardless of race, religion, or political opinion (even when they person is wrong!), but I have definite opinions and religious beliefs of my own. So, when the choice has to be made whether to speak about Chanuka or Thanksgiving, the decision was clear.

I don’t know why Miriam asks me to speak each year.
Also, I’m not American.
And so:
Thanksgiving and Chanuka are both based on a search for religious freedom.

Pilgrims – who were apparently different from the Puritans – fled England because it was then illegal to attend any church other than the Church of England and if you missed services on any Sunday or holy day you were fined. The Pilgrims even held secret services knowing that they could be executed for sedition. (I hope this is sounding somewhat familiar.) They went to Amsterdam and from their to Leiden, but found that life in Holland wasn't so great either. Their kids started to speak Dutch and not the Holy English, so they had to leave.

(A quick word about Jewish Leiden. There wasn't one. Leiden was one of the few places in Europe that was Jew-free. The artist Rembrandt was born and raised in Leiden, and when folks would accuse him of being Jewish, the proof that he wasn't was that he was from Leiden.)

A non-Jew

From Leiden, the Pilgrims eventually sailed to America, must to the distress of turkeys everywhere. (and I googled all this so I know I’m right).

Going back to ancient Judea, the Maccabim – and the Jews in general - were also faced with religious persecution. Under the rule of Antiochus, many Jewish rituals became illegal – brit milah, marking the new moon, and learning Torah. In fact, it was probably the first time in recorded history that a person’s religious practices were made illegal. But not the last. Indeed, throughout the ages these same Jewish practices have been made illegal over and over in various places around the world, up until and including today, where even brit milah is now becoming a hot ‘issue’ in many places in Europe. And in certain countries, it is now also dangerous, once again, to be a Christian.

This brings me to the difference between the Pilgrims and the Maccabim. The pilgrims fled and founded a haven of religious freedom. The Maccabim had nowhere to which to flee. Their only choice was to stand and fight in their Holy Land. And so they fought. For a short time, the Jews won national independence from Greek authority.


But for a MUCH longer period – more than 2000 years and still counting – the Maccabim were able to preserve our culture, our rituals, and our beliefs. And while we have been continually persecuted around the world; though brit milah and shechitah have become more and more ‘politically incorrect’, while anti-semitism is boldly going to places it’s never gone before; while assimilation is clearing vast areas of its Jews; it’s only here in Israel that we can be a free People in our Land. We are free to give thanks to G-d for all we have and all that keep us here; our families, our friends, our community, our own calendar, our own rituals, our own army, our own flag, our own People – right or wrong.

And our own soofganiyot!

A free People it their own Land

Chag Urim Sameach!!

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