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Jewish Journal

A modern maccabee

by Justin Jalil

November 15, 2013 | 10:17 am

As the holiday season approaches, I find myself reflecting back on the story of Hannukah and summon inspiration by the immense strength our ancestors showed in the face of unimaginable adversity. For those of us unfamiliar with the story of Hannukah, our ancestors, the Maccabees, were living in Eretz Israel under the reign of the Selucids - a might empire that, at its peak, stretched from the rolling hills of Central Turkey to the fertile plains of Northwest India. Over time, the rule of the Selucids had become increasingly inhospitable to the Jews, as they began adopting policies designed to wipe away Jewish autonomy, culture and religion by forcing them to embrace Hellenism -- the adoption of Greek culture, traditions and, most insultingly, paganism. As the Second Holy Temple was desecrated and our High Priests were replaced by Hellenized puppets loyal to the Selucid Regime, the Maccabees, who could no longer stomach these intolerable transgressions, rose up and launched a two-pronged revolt against the Selucid Empire and the Hellenistic Jews who abandoned their identities for the false promises of assimilation and security. The Maccabees, blessed with unbreakable zeal and numerous victories on the battlefield against a far better sized and well equiped foe, vanquished their enemies, reconquered a large chunk of Eretz Israel and established a Jewish Kingdom that held out for over 100 years against various empires vying to conquer the Holy Land. The Maccabees, perhaps most importantly, managed to recapture the holy city of Jerusalem and, within the walls of the newly rededicated Second Temple, made a one day supply of sacred oil last for eight special days, thus bringing forth the miracle of Hannukah.

A wonderful story by anyone's measure, but as an IDF soldier serving in a combat infantry unit stationed on the frontline of the Gazan Border, the story of Hannukah bears a special importnce to me. Two years ago I left my hometown of Los Angeles, CA with the intention of drafting into the IDF and fufilling a higher purpose: becoming a "Modern Maccabee" by coming to the defense of my people and our right to exist freely in our ancestral homeland. But what exactly does it mean to be a "Modern Maccabee" and why is it so important to try to aspire to be one? A Modern Maccabee is someone that exemplifies the strengths of our predecessors by standing up for our people and our right to exist freely in a world that continues to push for the opposite. Just like the Maccabees before us, we continue to face innumerable threats that challenge the notion of a future for our people; nations and terrorist groups continue to call for our extermination, anti-semitism and general anti-Israel apathy is on the rise and, most alarmingly, more and more Jewish people are leaving the Community and choosing to start families devoid of any Jewish upbringing. As Jews, we have a responsibility to continue the work of our ancestors to ensure a future for our people and way of life on Planet Earth.

There are no simple solutions to these myriad of threats, but we can start by beginning to connect ourselves to the past in order to better appreciate the unspeakable suffering previous generations endured just to make sure we could exist freely, let alone thrive, in the world today. Maybe this appreciation would encourage young people not to spurn their heritage so easily and prompt ourselves to engage more of our time, wealth and energy to the development of our community and others less fortunate than our own (a major Jewish tenent that also must not be forgotten). Accepting the falsehood that it is okay to be complacent because of the immeasurable strides the Jews have made in the past sixty-five years is both naive and incredibly foolish, as it allows us to forget the lessons of our past -- an unacceptable reality that would assuredly lead to our downfall.

As Hannukah approaches, let us take time to reflect on our ancestors and the versatility and resilience they showed in the face of the extermination of their way of life. We are the descendants of titans; our forefathers dared to challenge the world's mightiest empires for the sole purpose of ensuring a future for our people. Do not let their sacrifices die in vain -- summon your "inner-Maccabee" and play your part in making a place in the world for our way of life. As history has shown us, we only need to look to our past in order to build upon our future.

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