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Continue being a light to all, in all we do

 I am wishing all of you a very Happy Hanukkah!  As we light the first candle tonight, I pray that the lights bring brightness to your lives and remind you of the strength of our people in times of darkness. Lately, we’ve been walking the path of the Maccabees, a small, mighty group that had to maintain their voice and strength against the Greeks who sought to abolish Judaism and the Jewish people. Hanukkah reminds us to re-dedicate ourselves to keeping alive the flame of culture, and peoplehood.

Now more than ever, this Hanukkah, we need to rededicate ourselves to Judaism and to the fight for all Jewish people. We are doing this out of necessity because of the times we live in. We are raising money, we are rallying, we are praying, and we are fighting against anti-Semitism through letters, emails, and conversation. Today in “The KItchen” we were baking “Challahs for Healing”- we will sell them to raise money for Otfim, an organization that supports Israeli victims of terror. Not only are we raising money, but in our kitchen, a group of women were sharing their own current experiences with anti-Semitism, and we are supporting each other.

At last week’s Shabbat Service, we rededicated ourselves by presenting and performing the work “Judas Maccabaeus” by G.F. Handel. Handel wasn’t Jewish, and his choice to compose a work on the story of Hanukkah is significant. Handel was an ally to the Jewish people, and his music, his message, and the historical context speaks to this. We all need supporters right now, especially non-Jewish ones.

England expelled its Jews in 1290. They were allowed to return in the 1650s by Oliver Cromwell. At the time the oratorio was written, Jews had been living in England for a little less than 100 years. There was a raging debate about the legal status of Jews in England in the 1740s resulting in a slight improvement for Jews obtaining naturalization.

At the same time, British intellectuals were debating as to whether or not Jews could become English via education or whether they were a separate and unassimilable people. Handel jumped into that debate with both feet advocating a pro-Jewish viewpoint. He did that repeatedly with various compositions. In Judas Maccabaeus, he transforms the name Judas from an evil person to a hero.

The oratorio was written in 1746, and received its premiere performance in 1747 in Covent Garden, London, England. Handel wrote Judas Maccabaeus to pay tribute to an English general who had just won a major battle. He used the Hanukkah story as written in the Book of the Maccabees as his plot. As you can imagine, Handel’s oratorio made him very popular among the Jewish community of London.

He also re-interprets Hanukkah not only as a religious story about God, and he is very good at praising God, but as a struggle for liberty. As such, it is an early statement about democracy in English culture, which would impact the American scene 30 years later. Moreover, the composer also anticipates English Zionism in this work. Ultimately, of course, it is Great Britain which issues the Balfour declaration was a public pledge by Britain in 1917 declaring its aim to establish “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

I ask you to again listen to our performance of Judas Maccabaeus from last Shabbat. A group of 60 musicians, instrumentals, Shir KI and community singers under the direction of our amazing Hazzan David Tilman with our talented organist, Andrew Senn did an outstanding job bringing life, love and glorious music to this work. May this music lift your spirit today as you remember that throughout history we have had allies. It is our job to retell the stories that give us strength and light, and to continue being a light to all, in all we do.

Special credit to Rabbi Lance Sussman and Hazzan David Tilman for their contributions to this EKI