Hanukkah and the Miracle of Resistance

6 minute read
Fox is executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace

Each year, in the darkest days of winter, Hanukkah reliably arrives. We kindle lights and discuss the possibility of miracles. Each year is different. We return to Hanukkah a little older and altered by the changes within ourselves, our communities, and the world. This year is darker than any I’ve lived through. Like so many grieving both Palestinian and Israeli loved ones, these past two months have brought the deepest horror and heartbreak of my life. 

Though Hanukkah is a festival that commemorates miracles “in days of old,” there are none for the 2.3 million Palestinians and over 100 Israeli hostages in Gaza as the Israeli government relentlessly bombards them. Israel’s brutal military siege has cut off electricity, clean water, medicine, fuel, food. As winter arrives, the darkness grows heavier. Millions have been displaced and pushed further and further south. Nowhere in Gaza is safe.

In my despair, I’m clinging to the sacred Jewish tradition of interpretation, of meaning making, of midrash. Particularly, I’m clinging to the fact that Hanukkah is a story about Jewish resistance to oppression.

For some, it is about the small band of Jewish fighters, the Maccabees, who battled for power and land, and won the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The idea underlying this focus of the story is that might is right. In this telling, Jewish liberation comes through endless militarism, dominance, and territorial control.

But for me, the real miracle in the story is the opposite: The rabbis of the Talmud, who rejected this focus on militarism, chose for the prophetic portion on Shabbat the lines in Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by spirit.” Amidst our absolute horror at this moment, we are teaching our young people and reminding ourselves that bombs don’t lead to peace, and that a future of Jewish liberation is only possible through spirited commitment to liberation for Palestinians, too. That resistance to oppression is not only about self-protection, but about building a world where everyone is free and safe.

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The difference in perspective is not just a matter of religious interpretation. It represents the moral, political crossroads for my community—and for all people in this time.

Since the horrific attack on October 7th, when Hamas killed about 1,200 people and took hostage nearly 250 more, the Israeli government has pursued a genocidal war, killing over 17,000 people in Gaza including over 7,000 children. By the end of October, the number of children killed had already surpassed the annual number of children killed across every other conflict zone in the world since 2019. With the full and complete backing of the U.S. government, the Israeli military has been bombing Gaza relentlessly—destroying homes, hospitals, refugee camps, water desalination plants, universities, and libraries.

This disregard for human life extends to the Israeli hostages, too. Members of the Israeli government have expressed their indifference to their fates as their families wait torturously. Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich said, "We have to be cruel now and not to think too much about the hostages."

This war has already created generations of trauma. Thousands of children without parents, parents without their babies, an unfathomable man-made humanitarian crisis. For the Israeli government, there is no goal, no plan, except to drive the maximum number of Palestinians from the land in a campaign of complete ethnic cleansing. We aim, said retired IDF Major General Giora Eiland: “to create conditions where life in Gaza becomes unsustainable.” He added, “Gaza will become a place where no human being can exist.”

Israeli Security Cabinet Member Avi Dichter echoed this sentiment when he said "We are now rolling out the Gaza Nakba.” He is linking the current Israeli assault on Gaza to the violent displacement at the founding of the state, known as the Nakba (or catastrophe) when Zionist militias drove 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. The heartbreaking marches we now see of Palestinian children clinging to one precious item, driven south, are eerily reminiscent of the black and white photos from that first expulsion. The death and dispossession we are watching today already exceeds the toll in 1948.

Read More: Gazans Have Nowhere Left to Flee

In what world can we imagine that these historic atrocities by this Israeli regime against millions of Palestinian civilians will usher in a future of safety or security for Jewish Israelis? There is no moral, political or historical rationale to suggest that genocidal state violence produces anything but more violence.

The Maccabees, who won the battle we commemorate during Hanukkah, then went on to fight—and lose—many more bloody and needless wars. Their tale is lauded by Zionists as a victory, but it can just as easily be understood as a cautionary one about the desire for territorial expansion, conquering of land, and unrelenting militarism. The empire they won, and the Jewish commonwealth they established, was ultimately horribly corrupt and persecuted many. All in all, the Hasmonean period of Jewish independence was a relatively ignoble period of Jewish history, lasting less than 100 years. It ended in disaster for the Jewish people.

So how do we imagine a different way through this darkness? It is a simple truth—whether gleaned from ancient Jewish history or rooted in contemporary geopolitics–that there is no military solution to Israel’s occupation, apartheid, and dispossession of Palestinians. Only a permanent ceasefire, lifting the siege, returning all who are held captive, and finally righting decades of injustice can make way for a future of shared, and real, peace.

Israeli and Palestinian safety and lives are intertwined. Imagine a shared future rooted in a society without supremacy, domination, and oppression. A lasting peace, built on the basis of freedom, justice, and equality for all. Imagine, for a moment, replacing the racist fantasy of a “land without a people” with the reality of a land for all of the people.

The miracle of resistance I choose to honor this Hanukkah is the one favored by the rabbis of the diaspora. When the Maccabees restored the temple, they only found one jar of oil, barely enough to keep the menorah lit for one day. Yet, it lasted eight days, the time it takes to press olives into a new jar of oil. This Hanukkah, I want to teach my five year old to really study the miracle of that oil: there is enough. There is enough for everyone.

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