In my childhood, Chanukah was a happy time: a new present every day, beautiful light emanating from the Chanukah candles, dreidel games, "nisslach" ('nuts' in Yiddish), good spirits all around. The Chanukah story was a simple tale of good-versus-evil in which we - the good guys - won. The Maccabees were called zealots and their brand of zealotry was applauded and rewarded, no question about it.
Now, with hindsight, it doesn't look so simple. The word 'zealot' has taken on overtones of extremism, ignorance, and an inability to accept facts. Many of the settlers in what we have been calling the West Bank, but which we will now denominate properly as Palestine, are truly modern zealots in their willingness to use any extreme measures against the Palestinians in their midst, and increasingly even against Israeli Jews who dare disagree with them. Their zealotry includes many forms of violence. And they are joined in their zealotry by many Israeli politicians and their supporters, including in the American Jewish community, who appear eager to sacrifice every progressive Jewish and Israeli value - peace, tolerance, democracy - in their zeal to grab and hold more land. "Zealots" are no longer the good guys.
The past few weeks have been, in turn, exhilarating and distressing. The UN voted overwhelmingly to recognize the Palestinians as a state, albeit one with less-than-full status. The U.S. opposed the Palestinians' peaceful UN initiative, though our government has in principle supported the establishment of a Palestinian state for more than a decade now. After the UN vote, Israel immediately announced retaliatory measures - new settlement announcements that, if implemented, could kill the very possibility of the two-state solution. Zealots in power in Israel will harm Israelis as much as Palestinians, depriving both peoples of peaceful, secure futures. In the U.S., we saw an effort by zealots in Congress to use U.S. law to punish the Palestinians for their "chutzpah," while we heard nary a peep from our elected officials over the Netanyahu government's settlement announcements.
Throughout this period of turmoil, alone among all major American Jewish organizations, Americans for Peace Now unambiguously supported the Palestinian UN initiative. Throughout this period, APN and its Israeli sister organization, Shalom Achshav, have been the leading voices sounding the alarm over the Netanyahu government's peace-killing retaliation.
And now we see that there may be a crack in the wall of silence or opposition: This week brought news that one of the largest and most influential synagogues in New York, B'nai Jeshurun, publicly and strongly announced its support for the newly-recognized State of Palestine. One hopes that others will soon follow and a groundswell of support will emerge. This week also brought news that the Reform Movement came out strongly in opposition to the Netanyahu government's outrageous settlement announcements.
For me, the most important lesson of the Chanukah story is that a community of powerless people can prevail despite overwhelming odds: The American Jewish community may be waking up to the simple justice of the situation (and the injustice of 45 years of occupation). And we at APN will continue to stand up for what's right, even when what's right isn't what's popular. Help APN continue to stand up for peace and security in Israel by donating today - Send us $80, ten dollars for each candle, or more if you can. Chanukah means rededication. Please rededicate your efforts to see peace this year.
May the lights of Chanukah signify hope this year - a hope that the recognition of Palestine will be the first step along the path of two states for two peoples.
Barbara Green, APN donor
P.S. And may you be generous to APN for it is they who shine the light on these and many other issues that you care about.
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