Mirroring Ancient Miracles: Hanukkah in the Face of the Israeli-Hamas War

By: Ruchama Benhamou  |  December 19, 2023

By Ruchama Benhamou, Managing Editor  

This year, Aaron Shaykevich, the Editor in Chief, and I were honored to be invited to the annual YU Hanukkah Dinner. An illustrious event, catered to a range of members within the YU community, from alumni, administrators, to past presidents as well as the current one, Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman. This year’s theme reflected the dire circumstances we as Jews find ourselves in: the current Israeli-Hamas war. 

I specifically found this event to be extremely empowering as its message resembled the essence of Hanukkah and the triumph of the Jewish nation for centuries. In every iteration, we rise against our enemies. Whether ideological or physical, the war of morality and justice always prevails against evil and hate. Our continual resilience, not only as a people, but as a philosophical creed, and entity, fashions the embodiment of our faith and its contention. 

As a rationalist with an immensely Maimonidean inspired theoretical outlook, I find myself humbled by the miracles surrounding our people. From the creation to the land of Israel through its continued survival, I believe God (metaphorically of course) within his ways, attends to ours, and Divinely guides and sustains us, not so covertly as we may believe. Only days ago did the Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, stand in solidarity with Israel in a public proclamation against Hamas and antisemitism. In the midst of Hanukkah, our ancient enemy, an enemy whose sole purpose relied upon ridding this world of Judaism, now stands in the fight for its freedom and survival. It seems that our Hanukkah has taken a new form. Instead of the Greeks, we face terrorism, instead of the Maccabees our strength courses through the Israeli Defense Forces and all those who have fallen. Instead of solely a war of violence, a war of fear and psychological torment pulses through even the barriers of the beacon of democracy. It is not simply a war against Jews, or against Israel. It is a war of good and evil. A war between humanity and inhumanity. 

As the Hanukkah dinner progressed, we reflected upon the miracles we see now as Jews in the diaspora ever connected to the land of Israel. We prayed, we sang, we meditated upon the hostages and soldiers. In unison, as one soul, we stopped to recognize the Hanukkah miracle of today; no matter how much death and destruction they wreak, we will always triumph. We will win this war, because we always have. Because through Divine providence, history has repeated itself. Against all odds, we are still here. 

Even more so, we are an integral part of the development of society. We facilitate discovery of the greatest advancements in science, technology, medicine, and literature. We are a part of the intellectual discourse offering new perspectives and moral philosophies. Specifically, as YU’s mission statement relays, we are leaders of tomorrow who “learn and go forth, as both educated and ethical people, to share their own special talents and wisdom with society.”

The Hanukkah dinner this year could not have more readily reflected this notion. Through YU’s continuous support and initiatives for Jews and Israel, we have made an impact. As President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman stated, “Everyone that is at this Hanukkah dinner is here because they believe in [the YU student leaders]. That is why I am here.” Belief and faith as foundational pillars of Judaism is the cornerstone of how we, in partnership with God, effectuate miracles in our modern world.