And for the miracles and for the wonders and for the mighty deeds and for the salvations and for the victories that you wrought for our ancestors in their days and in this day. — “Al Hanisim”
As we prepare to celebrate Hanuka, the Festival of Lights, we’re inspired by the ancient story of struggle for religious freedom. We recall the heroic Jews of yore who fought against the Syrian oppressors that had defiled the Holy Temple. In particular, the name of Judah, the third son of Mattathias, leader of the guerrilla war, is celebrated at Hanuka. Nicknamed Maccabeus, “the hammer,” Judah fought for two years against the Syrian forces of King Antiochus until a peace treaty restored the temple in Jerusalem to Jewish hands.
“One of the sadder ironies of Jewish history is that the Maccabees led a successful revolt against King Antiochus’s antisemitic oppression … only to turn into oppressors of the Jews themselves,” Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote in Jewish Literacy.
After the story of the rededication of the temple and the small cruse of oil that burned for eight days — a miracle! — the political situation devolved. As Telushkin explained, “the Maccabees were more noble in opposition than in power. They had grown so accustomed to fighting that they seemed incapable of working with anyone who disagreed with them about anything. … The Maccabees’ terrible moral and religious decline explains why there is almost no mention of them in the Talmud.”
In the end, the Romans interceded in the Jewish civil war, in 63 B.C.E., and ended up occupying Jerusalem. “The tragedy was now complete,” Telushkin noted. The Jews were subjugated by an “alien (and pagan) power.” The Jews were forced into exile, cast to all corners of the earth — until the modern State of Israel emerged in 1948 C.E.
But we don’t have to tell this sad story to our kids and grandkids. In the post-World War II era, Hanuka has become a sort of secular counterpoint to Christmas, the dominant seasonal holiday and the engine of the United States economy. ’Tis the season to brawl in Walmart over a flat-screen TV on sale.
However, apart from our home celebrations, lighting the hanukia each night, eating latkes with applesauce and sour cream, things are amiss in the U.S. The midterm elections were not that bad; the predicted “red wave” did not happen — we avoided a full-blown fascist regime taking power in Washington, D.C. The Republicans, a party still in thrall to Trump, will hold a narrow majority in the U.S. House, while Democrats will retain control of the Senate.
In Minnesota, DFL incumbents prevailed in the state constitutional contests, although Attorney General Keith Ellison and Auditor Julie Blaha won by miniscule margins. Secretary of State Steve Simon — who has maintained Minnesota’s tradition of free and fair elections with the nation’s highest participation rates — won reelection handily, defeating Kim Crockett, one of the extremist GOP figures put forth by the party in 2022. And it’s a great relief that Gov. Tim Walz defeated his Republican opponent, Scott Jensen, who is tantamount to a Holocaust denier. Also in Minnesota, the DFL won control of the Senate — so recreational cannabis is likely on the way.
On the national scene, we are witnessing the bizarre rise of antisemitic expressions, with the social media outburst of rapper Kanye West, who tweeted that he was going “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” As some have pointed out, West, who now goes by Ye, has more followers on Twitter (32.2 million) than there are Jews in the world (14.8 million). It’s disturbing that such a high-profile celebrity has taken a turn to Jew hating. Of course, his antisemitic calumnies have resulted in several hits to his business operations, as companies decide that it’s not in their interest to collaborate with such an unsavory character.
Ye apparently still has a friend in Donald Trump, who hosted the rapper and fashion mogul at his Mar-a-Lago retirement home. And Kanye West, who now associates with a group of white nationalists, brought along Nick Fuentes, a despicable provocateur who spews the most noxious misogynistic, racist, bigoted and antisemitic views via the internet. Although Trump complained that he didn’t know that Fuentes was coming to dinner, or who he was, Ye later commented, “Trump is really impressed with Nick Fuentes.”
Republican leaders in Congress have mainly avoided comment on the spectacle of the former president hosting notorious antisemites at his Florida resort. There has been a bit of criticism from some in the former president’s orbit, including David Friedman, Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer and U.S. ambassador to Israel.
“To my friend Donald Trump, you are better than this.” Friedman tweeted in late November, as reported by JTA. “Even a social visit from an antisemite like Kanye West and human scum like Nick Fuentes is unacceptable.”
For his part, Trump defended the dinner with Ye. He “expressed no antisemitism” in their recent meeting, Trump noted on a Truth Social post. The Florida man has announced his bid for the presidency in 2024.
In a Nov. 27 column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Will Bunch surveyed the chaotic state of U.S. politics and pointed out that the “hate summit between Donald Trump, Ye and Fuentes didn’t happen in a political vacuum. To the contrary, it occurred at a moment when right-wing hate talk and threats — increasingly with an AR-15 assault rifle strapped over the shoulder — are peaking, and when a young man who was incubated in a hothouse of political animus just shot up a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., and murdered five people.”
Bunch commented on the carnage perpetrated at Club Q, in Colorado Springs, Colo., and continued: “It’s clear that America is having a moment right now, and a deeply troubling one at that. Never in my lifetime — and I watched the tumultuous 1960s, albeit through the eyes of a child — has the hate speech been so open and so over the top, nor has the threat of political bloodshed felt so palpable. Yet it’s important we understand what is really happening — and why it’s happening now.
“The antisemitism, the homophobia, the violence — this isn’t the American right flexing its muscles out of strength. Quite the opposite. The forces of 400 years of white supremacy culture are like a wounded bear right now — lashing out and extremely dangerous because its proponents know they are a seriously endangered species.”
As I have commented previously in these pages, the GOP has become a party of grievance and insane conspiracy mongering. As this faction loses its grip on power, as Bunch sees it, supporters will lash out in spasms of violence. Like the Maccabees/Hasmoneans.
Unfortunately, the ideologists of white supremacism see “The Jews” as the unseen hand behind every social movement that they view with suspicion and hatred. From Black Lives Matter to migration across the southern border, financier and philanthropist George Soros, always a stand-in for perfidious Jewish manipulation, is the target of extreme right-wing ire.
It’s best that we see the dismal political scene in a clear light. The midterm elections are over, and now it’s time to rededicate ourselves to preserving our democracy and being part of a bulwark against the forces that seek to divide and oppress us.
The editors and staff of the Jewish World wish all our readers a happy Hanuka.
— Mordecai Specktor / editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com
Since 1912 the AJW has served as an important news resource for the Jewish community. The Jewish World unites the main Jewish communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as those in Duluth, Rochester and smaller cities, and bridges the divides between the various Jewish religious streams.