For the Jewish people, this period in history is – to paraphrase Dickens – the best of times and in some ways most difficult times. Never have we experienced such a renaissance of Jewish life, both here and especially in Israel. Never have Jews enjoyed such freedoms and comforts, to openly practice their faith and educate their children as they see fit without the fear of oppressive regimes. Yet, we face unprecedented rates of assimilation, ignorance and apathy.
Israel is thriving on one end, but increasingly isolated on the other. It is not “Night,” but there are dark clouds above our heads.
In Italy, violent protesters are massing at the Great Synagogue of Rome accusing the Jews of their country’s economic woes. In Hungry, some in the parliament want to make a list of the Jews who pose a “security threat.” In France, anti-Semitic incidents are up 45 percent, and it is not possible to walk the streets of Paris identified as a Jew. On top of that, the UN, with a vote of 138 to 9 and the blessing of most Western powers, has accepted Palestine as a (non-member) “state,” despite the fact that half of it is ruled by a terrorist organization bent on destroying Israel. The Jewish nation and Jews in many places in the world are isolated more than ever.
Into this twilight – a confused mix of light and dark – comes Chanukah, which begins tonight with the lighting of the first bright candle after darkness falls.
What lessons does Chanukah teach us about our discombobulated times?
This sermon connects the current time with the story of Chanukah and the story of Joseph, whose stellar rise from a dark pit to the brightest light, “from prison to the throne,” teaches us to deal with our own challenges. It explains how darkness is part of the light.