by Sarah N. Stern
This Saturday night, we will begin lighting the Chanukah Menorah. Chanukah is the festival of religious freedom–Freedom to keep the flame of our people alive, despite the years of the Dimi laws, the inquisitions, the pogroms, and culminating in the gas chambers and ovens of Auschwitz. And despite the current revolting re-emergence of anti-Semitism on college campuses and throughout many of the streets of Europe, and even on some streets, right here in the United States.
When we Jews speak about religious freedom, it is not just about our own freedom We have never believed in proselytization, or in, G-d forbid, the snuffing out of a precious human life for those who do not worship G-d the way we do. We Jews are the original religious libertarians. Chanukah also symbolizes the appreciation of and a freedom to worship G-d any way that you see fit. And people with history such as ours are extremely sensitive to issues of religious freedom. As long as they do not try to eliminate our own.
Chanukah also symbolized the struggle between the Hellenists who wanted to extinguish that special spiritual flame and the Maccabees who were intent on keeping that flame alive throughout the generations.
But Chanukah is also the story of miracles. David Ben Gurian once said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you have to believe in miracles.” Of course, we all know about the miracle of what Israel has been able to accomplish in those short 68 years of existence, despite the constant wars and the ongoing conflict.
However, within the last few weeks, I personally felt that I had witnessed many miracles.
In my wildest dreams, I never would have believed that President Abdel Fatteh el-Sissi would go to Al Azar University in Cairo, (which is like going to Yeshiva University in New York, or the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem), and tell the clerics and students, “The problem lies within us. The problem is radical Islam.”
Nor would I have ever believed that there would have ever been a time when the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, would talk to a group of high school students in Cairo and tell them that Israel’s relationship to the Palestinians does not really constitute terrorism.”
Nor would I have ever dreamed that there would be 15 nations, many of them Sunni Arab, that came to help Israel at its time of need, during the recent outbreak of fires, (albeit much of it was terrorist related arson.)
And of course, I would never have imagined that there would by a nominated Ambassador to Israel who does not pin the root of the entire conflict in the Middle East, or on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute on the single issue of the settlements, rather than the Palestinian Authority’s constant and relentless incitement to hate and to kill.
Nor would I have ever believed, after listening to presidential candidate after presidential candidate, while stumping for election promise to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, that our President-elect’s designated Ambassador to Israel is making concrete plans to actually do it.
Yes—the dangers that all of us are facing are vast, and especially the danger that Israel, our front line of defense for Western civilization, must confront on a constant and daily basis in the Middle East. And the danger of a newly emboldened, empowered and vastly enriched Iran has gotten infinitely greater through this horrendous nuclear deal. But during this particular Chanukah time, we do have a great deal of miracles to celebrate. So tonight let’s just focus on the positive and let’s celebrate the real miracles that are happening before our eyes, L’azman Hazeh, in our time.
Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of EMET, the Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, DC