Community Rabbi Corner, Dec. 13, 2019

Rabbi Jeff Pivo
East Brunswick Jewish Center
East Brunswick, NJ

It’s Hanukkah time again. Soon the lights of the hanukkiah will grow brighter each night,
as we commemorate the victory of the few over the many, the fight for the freedom to live as
Jews, and the courage that it took to turn back to a sacred tradition. As in the Maccabees time,
the Jewish people are a small minority in America, valiantly trying to maintain our distinctive
beliefs and practices in a time of diminishing belief and lessening of religious ritual.

More than two thousand years after the Maccabees’ battles, we still admire and find
inspiration in their devotion to God and their miraculous deliverance by God. They fought for
Judaism, and they celebrated their victory by re-asserting the primacy of God in their lives. The
Maccabees teach us that sustaining Judaism must be our primary task, that it is a task which
takes tremendous effort, and that the effort does not come without a cost.
Like the Maccabees, we face the challenge of sustaining Judaism in a harsh environment.
American Jews do not suffer the active antagonism of non-Jews; our battle is not against the
imposition of paganism but rather the lure of non-belief and the lack of communal connection
that has become common across American society. The Jewish community is not immune to
those trends, but we do know how to fight them. First, we must see ourselves as having a
responsibility to one another. ​Kol Yisrael aravim zeh lazeh we say, all the people Israel are
connected to one another. Those of us already part of a synagogue family must work to create
a home for those who are not and then bring them home. That means ensuring that our services, programs and educational system are of high quality and are accessible to all.

Second, we must commit ourselves to a life of learning, celebration and comfort by taking part in serious study. The example of Golda Och families’ dedication to Jewish education must be extended to all Jewish families. Finally, we must commit ourselves to being personally present in the life cycle events of our communities, including supporting mourners at their homes during shivah and by attending morning and evening minyan each day of the week.

The Maccabees fought with the sword, spear and arrows; we will fight with engagement,
learning and caring. We must act as one to fight the modern equivalent of a battle for Judaism’s
future, so that our children’s children will look back at our time as one when, like the
Maccabees, we lit the fire and brightened Jewish lives for generations to come.