Mark Blazer | It’s a Season to Celebrate Heroism

Rabbi Mark Blazer
Rabbi Mark Blazer

In the past two months we have witnessed a horrific pogrom on the people of Israel, followed by weeks of war, and antisemitic attacks directed at Jews throughout the world including in our own community. These events have left the Jewish community distraught, angry and frightened at a level we have not seen in our lifetimes.  

A few weeks ago I saw the blood of Paul Kessler on the corner of Thousand Oaks and Westlake Boulevard, killed because he was holding an Israeli flag. I never thought I would see that in my darkest nightmares, in my own backyard.  

Two days later I was in Sderot, Israel, and saw a ghost city that has been vacated by nearly 100,000 people since Oct. 7. As I walked the streets I saw the sukkot, the huts for the holiday of Tabernacles, that were also abandoned as the attacks came on the last day of the holiday. When I spoke to the mayor, Alon Davidi, he told me he hoped the citizens could return in time to light the Chanukah lights in those same sukkot. 

Chanukah is a season of celebrating heroism. We remember the courage of the Maccabees whose story has inspired people of many religions for generations, a testament of faith, selflessness and sacrifice. 

Two thousand years ago, the Maccabees fought against a dominant Hellenistic philosophy that was spreading across the Mediterranean and overwhelming them in the land of Israel. They bravely fought this seemingly unstoppable force that would have destroyed not only their religion and culture but also one that would soon rise from the same land, Christianity. The early church understood their connection to these heroes and preserved the stories as well. This is why the Books of the Maccabees were canonized and taught over the centuries by billions of Christians. 

In our own day we have seen the spread, in the same part of the world, of jihadist fundamentalism. A danger to our values and way of life, this movement has grown in power over the past 40 years, fueled by Iran and other heinous regimes that have encouraged horrific homicide attacks throughout the world, including the U.S. It represents a hostile assault to our civilization and society. 

A modern clash of civilizations has played out largely on our television screens, in what tragically so many do not see as connected events. We have been mostly oblivious to the greater danger as it continues to unfold. In Israel this violence is not an occasional occurrence. It is a constant onslaught.  

Fortunately, Israel has been supported by this country and most Americans are at least sympathetic to Israel’s plight. But make no mistake, if Israel is not successful, or sees its support erode, this war will be fought on these shores as well. If these modern Maccabees falter, sooner rather than later the battle will be here. 

This is a difficult time to celebrate, and even while we grieve and mourn the darkness that sometimes surrounds us, we believe there is a brighter hope on the horizon. In our unity and strength, our belief must intensify during this holiday season. We will not lose faith, and will reaffirm our values, just like our ancestors, the men and women who stood with Judah and his family during this time of year in days of yore.   

We pray that as people light the Chanukah menorah this year, they will be illuminated not only by the glow of the candles, but also by the radiance of truth, love and the possibility for a better world.  

Rabbi Mark Blazer is the rabbi of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita. 

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