Tonight at the Thanksgiving dinner table my 6 year old said that he was thankful for Sunday School. This brought a round of groans of despair from my 10 year old, not being so fond of the institution. Joel went on to defend Sunday school and the synagogue saying "that without it how would we know about being jewish and all".
In this same direction, In honor of Hanukah, my father sent out some thoughts about what this holiday means to him. I would like to share with you on my blog. With his permission here is a re-print of what this holiday means to him and the history of my family.
Last weekend I discussed with my 11 year old grandson what the holiday means to me and, I became quite emotional about that contemplation. So I decided to try and understand why I was feeling that way. Here is the story.
I am not a religious person and my absence from synagogue for the high holidays did not bother me emotionally. My semi-traditional adherence to Jewish customs is occasionally circumvented with a delicious back-bacon sandwich at the Market. So, I was quite surprised that I started to have a verystrong reaction to having a traditional Hanukah celebration this year.
I think it was the word, Maccabees that triggered my feelings. I mentioned to my grandson that to me, Hanukah was a celebration of a small Israeli tribe led by Yehudah the Maccabee defeating the Greek army and regaining their land and reoccupying their temple, that was the symbol of their tribe’s existence. A small battle 2176 years ago seemed to have an emotional significance for me, and I have now been able to understand better why.
I was born in Scotland in 1938. For the first seven years of my life, I existed in the turmoil of the Second World War. I didn’t understand what was going on, but certain issues lodged themselves in my memory. One of these was the organization that my father belonged to and was very active in, that Jewish organization was called the Maccabeem. The Maccabeem was a Jewish sports-social club that focused on health and fitness and self-reliance, rather than prayer and traditional Jewish pursuits. The Maccabeem was closely tied to the Israeli Zionist movement and their original pledge was I think something like, “We shall overcome through strength.” All through my childhood, I must have been exposed to Hanukah where my father, his brothers and any others all compared the feats of the ancient Maccabeem with their world.
At the end of World War II, when the scope of the Holocaust became common knowledge, six million people killed because they were affiliated with the Jewish religion. The motto of the Scottish social club, The Maccabeem, changed to add, “Never Again” to the original “We shall overcome through strength.” My father was so dedicated to this cause that he immigrated to Israel to assist in fighting in the War of Independence. Shortly thereafter my mother and the three children joined him there. My father gave up a thriving furniture manufacturing business and much more to follow in the footsteps of the Maccabee. By that time, I was eleven, my grandson’scurrent age, and I did not really understand the depth of my father’s commitment or my mother’s willingness to leave behind a large family (nine brothers and sisters and their offspring’s) and all her world that she knew to follow the spirits of the Maccabee.
I remember when the Israeli government put in place the Jewish Olympics and called it the Maccabiah. My father, who was still active in the movement in Israel, arranged for me, I believe I must have been14 or 15, to receive the Torch that was carried by athletes to the stadium in Ramat- Gan and to make two loops of the stadium carrying the torch before passing it on to a wounded veteran to complete the final loop and to light the Eternal Light.
Somewhere inside me, this sequence of events has lain dormant until this year when I mentioned to my grandson that Hanukah was about the deeds of the Maccabeem more than a religious event.
Reality caught up with my parents in Israel, and inability to earn a living, led to our eventual relocation to Canada and to my existence here.
So, it is surprising how a single word or two can trigger emotional feelings and memories long buried.
None of you have experienced this existence, but in honour of the Maccabeem, the beliefs and actions of my father, and the festival of Hanukah, I am passing on my feelings and recollections.
Chaim ben Aria